CINCINNATI — Samuel Landis knew the vacant Queensgate Correctional Facility could be an ideal place to provide warmth this winter for people experiencing homelessness.
He knew because it saved him from the cold years ago.
Back when Landis was homeless and the temperatures dropped, there were times he went where he didn’t belong, he said. When he got arrested for trespassing, Landis wound up at the old jail.
“On three or four occasions, I was actually locked up in this facility,” he said Tuesday. “I would gladly accept the charge just to stay warm.”
Now – as the executive director of Maslow’s Army - Landis has the keys to the property and has led the effort to transform the 20,000-square-foot facility into a place to provide daytime shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s a blessing,” said Landis, who also is cofounder of Maslow’s Army, a nonprofit that serves people experiencing homelessness. “It’s a miracle.”
Supporters celebrated the new Maslow’s Army Todd B. Portune Memorial Winter Day Center with a ribbon-cutting Tuesday morning. Landis said he expects it will be open for business in the next day or two.
It’s named for the former Hamilton County commissioner who died in January. Portune was an avid supporter of Maslow’s Army and the organization’s work.
Advocates have said the center is especially important this winter because the coronavirus pandemic has limited the number of places where people who are homeless can seek warmth during the day until homeless shelters open in the evenings. At the same time, the number of people living on the streets has increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 economic crisis.
“The actions of Sam and his team remind me so much of Todd Portune,” Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Portune was a visionary, she said, who had a gift for spotting what the community would need next.
“A day center at a challenging time is the next thing,” Driehaus said.
Portune’s son and daughter, Ethan and Ellyse Portune, said their father would be pleased with the honor.
“He was always for the people,” Ellyse Portune said. “I know that he’s here today for sure and looking down on all of us and here with us, and I know that he’s so proud of this cause and everything that Maslow’s Army has done.”
The center has enough space to serve hundreds of people throughout the winter, Landis said.
IT Supply Solutions donated an entire computer lab for the facility and a $10,000 check on Tuesday, challenging other local businesses to contribute money, too.
The center also has a room with beds where people can rest, a large area with tables and chairs where people can eat and rooms filled with donated coats and other clothing. The staff for the center consists of people who experienced homelessness themselves and have been trained to offer help and support.
Maslow’s Army currently has a lease to use the building for 90 days with an option for a fourth month, Landis said, although the day center could continue to operate if it’s successful and if more money is raised to support it.
“This is really a life-saving endeavor,” Cincinnati City Council member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said.
It’s one that Todd Portune surely would have supported, his son said.
“To continue his legacy in such a positive way,” Ethan Portune said, “it’s amazing.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.