West Bloomfield resident Mary Beth Castorri paid renovation costs for five women who were previously at a homeless shelter to move into a renovated home in Pontiac.

West Bloomfield resident Mary Beth Castorri paid renovation costs for five women who were previously at a homeless shelter to move into a renovated home in Pontiac.

Photo provided by Matt Myftiu


West Bloomfield resident covers costs for five women to move into renovated home

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 3, 2020

 From left, volunteer Cliff Seiber, Mary Beth Castorri and Pastor Kent W. Clark stand in front of a renovated home in Pontiac. According to Clark, GCH helps previously homeless individuals “get back into the mainstream,” including via offering housing opportunities.

From left, volunteer Cliff Seiber, Mary Beth Castorri and Pastor Kent W. Clark stand in front of a renovated home in Pontiac. According to Clark, GCH helps previously homeless individuals “get back into the mainstream,” including via offering housing opportunities.

Photo provided by Matt Myftiu

 A before picture of a home that was renovated in Pontiac.

A before picture of a home that was renovated in Pontiac.

Photo provided by Matt Myftiu

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — The lives of five local women recently took a dramatic turn when they were given the opportunity to move into a renovated home in Pontiac via an outreach of Grace Gospel Fellowship Church in Pontiac.

After the home was purchased, the renovation took about a year, with the costs covered by West Bloomfield resident Mary Beth Castorri, who acted as a sponsor.

The women’s journey to the home began with a stay at Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac.

Grace Centers of Hope is Oakland County’s oldest and largest homeless shelter in Michigan, and according to CEO Kent W. Clark, 98% of those who enter the shelter have drug-related problems.

The home that was purchased was Grace Centers of Hope’s 52nd renovation project.

Clark, who is the church’s pastor, discussed the process of how people earn the chance to move into a renovated home.

“We have people come here for a one-year life skills program, and then after that, a two- to three-year after-care program,” he said. “We’re getting people back into the mainstream. Basically, we’re (a) faith-based organization, seeing tremendous things happening.”

Benefits offered include food and shelter, counseling, life skills courses, and a career and education center.

The five women’s move into a renovated home is part of Grace Centers of Hope’s after-care program.

Each of them is expected to pay rent while living in the five-bedroom home.

After the rental period is over, there may be an opportunity to purchase the home via a land contract, which occurs when a buyer finances a property by making installment payments to the seller.

The seller maintains the legal title until the buyer pays off the loan.

Castorri was with the women at the home’s dedication.

“They were just thrilled,” she said. “They’re getting a new start, and they’re very, very fortunate. … It filled my heart with joy to see them and how grateful they were. They’re not in their 20s; they’re older, and here they are getting a fresh start. I was really happy to be a part of it.”

Castorri said she was in advertising for 42 years prior to retiring about seven years ago.

She had driven by Grace Centers of Hope’s facility multiple times before eventually deciding that she wanted to get involved.

“They do such great work,” Castorri said. “They help people that were homeless. They put (them) through a year’s worth of training and compassion and psychological care.”

Val W. is one of the women who moved into the renovated home.

“I owe GCH my life, and I feel highly blessed,” she shared via a release. “I’m looking forward to new beginnings and furthering myself. They gave me the opportunity to get my life back. The house symbolizes everything new and beautiful. I’m looking forward to continuing on a positive path.”

The life skills program at Grace Centers of Hope takes place “in-house,” with no cost for those who live there during that time period.

The facility has a women’s and children’s center, as well as a men’s center.

The women’s and children’s center has semi-private rooms where two to four people can stay in each room, including children.

At press time, there were 40 women and 10 children living in that center, and 58 in the men’s center, which is a dorm-like setting.

Those who reach out to Grace Centers of Hope for help have requirements that they are expected to meet.

“Without accountability, you have no program,” Clark said. “There has to be something expected back from the folks here.”

Those who live at Grace Centers of Hope are tested for drugs “regularly” and must show themselves to be drug free to qualify to move into an after-care home.

Having a full-time job and at least $1,200 in savings is also a requirement to be eligible to move into a home.

Rent is typically $400 per month for individuals living in a single room, with utilities included.

Those who move into an after-care home are still tested for drugs, and if it is discovered that they have used drugs or alcohol, they are sent back to the Grace Centers of Hope facility for 30 days.

If it happens again, they are no longer part of the program.

Clark has been in the business of helping people long enough to have an understanding of what it takes to see lives transformed.

“I’ve been here maybe 35 years now,” he said. “We have, over those years, gone from, basically, a soup kitchen, to people getting their lives back. … We’re a Christian organization, but we emphasize people helping people. It’s not a cold check from Washington that people need; people need other people coming alongside and helping them. We see that happening here at Grace Centers, and it works.”

During the course of his time at Grace Centers of Hope, Clark has observed the devastating effects of drugs.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the power of heroin and drug addiction,” he said. “It’ll rob you of everything you have and leave you without anything. … I think last year I had maybe 10 to 14 funerals — people who OD’d here. It’s happening in the streets. Heroin, the drugs, are literally killing people.”

On the flip side, Clark has seen the lives of some who reached out for help restored.

“There is a tremendous community here of people who are getting their lives back, which overrides all the work and all the things that take place here that we see,” he said. “I’m 76 years old. I’ve been in ministry over 50 years. This is the highlight of my life, to be here and watch people, to see people, men and women, boys, girls, getting their life back, and families being put back together here (in) downtown Pontiac.”

Parents who enter Grace Centers of Hope's program are not forced to leave their children behind.

“That’s one of the things I saw almost immediately years ago when I first came here; these children are taken from these mothers and put in foster care homes,” Clark said. “Mom’s trying to get her life back; she’s on drugs, and she’s separated from her babies. It’s just not a good atmosphere. We do our best and work with the courts here in Oakland County and Macomb and other counties to get the children back with mom and/or dad. They’re in our daycare. So, every day, moms, dads see their children and are with them.”

Clark said Grace Centers of Hope is the “best kept secret” in the state.

“I feel like I have the greatest life in the world,” he said. “One of the wonderful parts is seeing these children. They rebound so quick. Say they’ve lived with mom or dad, or both, in a vacant house or in a back seat of a car somewhere in the summer, living in cemeteries and park benches — to see these kids bounce back, I can’t tell you how wonderful that is. It’s marvelous to see people get their life back, become productive citizens.”

For more information, visit gracecentersofhope.org or call (248) 334-2187.

Grace Centers of Hope has thrift stores located in Oak Park, Sterling Heights, Waterford and Warren.

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