Four days a week, the nonprofit HOPE Resource Center distributes meals and necessities to anyone who walks up to the front window of a house on Sullivant Avenue. By building relationships and trust, the center is there to assist when those who are down and out are ready to change their lives.

April Caudill looked out at the line a few minutes before her HOPE Resource Center opened on a recent Monday.


Several people already were standing outside the Sullivant Avenue nonprofit’s office, waiting. Most were regulars, plus a new face or two, looking for a hot meal and maybe some dry clothes after a rainy weekend on the Hilltop.


"Here’s Hollywood!" said Caudill, excited after spotting a petite woman with red-streaked hair and a colorful dress in the growing crowd.


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The 31-year-old with the Tinseltown nickname has lived on the streets around Sullivant Avenue for about three years. She was making her regular stop at HOPE.


"I come here every time I can," she said, settling into a chair just inside the front door of the house-turned-drop-in-center. "They give you everything you could possibly need to live on or off the streets. If it wasn’t for them, half of us would be in grungy clothes and starving to death, for sure."


But this day was different. This day, Hollywood was ready to make a change and wanted help.


"I want to go to rehab," she said softly as Teresa Rouett, a caseworker, sat down nearby.


It was the sort of breakthrough that Caudill has sought since launching Garrett Recovery several years ago, initially as a sober house for women trying to overcome addictions.


>> Video: HOPE Resource Center helps down-and-out along Sullivant Avenue


When COVID-19 hit the scene this year, the nonprofit shifted its focus and opened HOPE (the acronym stands for Helping Other People Excel) to provide food, clothing, toiletries and other items to men and women who would otherwise do without.


Though the pandemic forced many offices to end face-to-face interactions, Caudill’s nonprofit never closed.


"We had to shut our doors, but … we opened our window," Caudill said, adding later, "We’re just a few people trying to make a difference in a neighborhood that sees devastation every day."


Thanks to a $120,000 grant earlier this year from Franklin County’s Office of Justice Policy and Programs, Caudill was able to hire four people, including a couple of caseworkers.


Four days a week, HOPE distributes meals and necessities to anyone who walks up the sidewalk to the front window of the house on Sullivant Avenue.


There are no requirements, and no strings are attached, to get a hot sandwich or a pair of shoes; nothing is asked in return other than providing a name.


"They are located right in the heart of an area that has a lot of needs," said Caitlin Looney, grants coordinator at the county programs office. "… A lot of people they serve are just walking down the street. … They do the groundwork to build rapport, to build trust and to meet basic needs."


The greater goal is to be there and ready to assist when those who are down and out are really ready for something different. The relationship-building takes time, Caudill said.


Some people walk up to the window and leave with a bag of handouts without saying much. Sometimes, they’re drunk or high on drugs or have mental-health issues that are evident.


But over time, the conversations get longer and more candid.


"They just want somebody to talk to," Caudill said. "They just want to have a conversation, to know that they’re human for a minute."


The stories are heartbreaking — about abject poverty and people who are living in abandoned garages, on porches, in tents or wherever they can find a place.


There’s a man who had to hand over his colostomy bag to a drug dealer as collateral.


There’s a woman who was sold for sex as a youngster for a hit of crack.


Other men and women are regularly raped or beaten or robbed.


Many of those receiving help at HOPE are homeless. Yet increasingly, there are people who have homes but have lost jobs as restaurant servers or in other retail and service positions after businesses shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


"You’re one step and one paycheck away from being right there," Caudill said. "Every one of us (is). … You’re one day away from ending up out here."


HOPE officially opened its window to the community in early February. The first week, 36 people stopped by for assistance.


A month later, the number of window visits in a week had jumped to 186. One day in August, there were 230.


By the end of that recent Monday, 64 people had stopped by for meatball sandwiches, clothing and other supplies.


The women working at HOPE are on a first-name basis with many of the people who poke their heads through the window, asking for razors, diapers and baby wipes, apples and bananas, or whatever else is on hand.


The nonprofit also helped one couple track down their birth certificates and Social Security numbers to apply for housing assistance. Others needed help filing for unemployment or food benefits.


There’s no pressure on anyone to immediately enroll in addiction treatment.


"We can’t force them to do anything," Caudill said. "But what we can do is support them, encourage them. … When you’re ready, come tell us."


The pandemic is prompting some to seek formal help sooner.


"We would have gotten there, but I believe that we’ve gotten there so much quicker because they don’t have anywhere else to go," said Linda McAuley, the nonprofit’s manager of volunteers and donations.


Before the day ended, HOPE had arranged a ride for Hollywood to a local clinic for a consultation on addiction treatments.


"I just want my life to get back to normal," she said, a few tears falling into the glitter makeup under her eyes. "… I hate this."


Even getting to that point was complicated and involved phone calls, lots of questions and an attempt to track down an out-of-state birth certificate.


"It’s rare that you make that first phone call and it’s the right one," Rouett said. "It’s usually try and try again. But when it works, it feels so good for everybody."


mkovac@dispatch.com


@OhioCapitalBlog