New Benedict House director dives right in

Director Mike Curry stands outside Benedict House last week. The men
Director Mike Curry stands outside Benedict House last week. The men's homeless shelter in Bremerton fosters social interaction and continues to stay full to capacity.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Mike Curry may no longer be a professional diver, but his many duties with Catholic Community Services — including becoming director of Benedict House last summer, Bremerton’s shelter for homeless men — has him jumping right in.

“There’s not a lot of down time,” said Curry, whose other official title is family center director for the social service agency. Through working closely with homeless men, he said he is able to help establish support networks and above all, human interaction to people who often feel cast aside.

“I think it’s something fundamental,” he said.

Curry, 40, splits his time working in Aberdeen, where he lives, and Bremerton. But his duties with Catholic Community Services are spread all over the Olympic Peninsula, including Grays Harbor, Pacific, Jefferson, Kitsap and Clallam counties. In addition to Benedict House, he oversees an after-school tutoring program and an emergency teen shelter.

One common thread that ties together the residents at Benedict House is that they have not always had somebody to ask for help, he said. For Curry, providing the outlet for the homeless to build long-term relationships is the part of his job he finds most rewarding.

“We all have a need for social interaction,” Curry added. “The people they meet here still stay as a support system for some even after they leave.”

Benedict House provides both emergency shelter and transitional housing for single men and men with children. There are 25 adult beds available and as of Tuesday, all were occupied. There is always a waiting list and currently there are about 15 men on it, said Carol Brown, intake specialist. From January to November, Benedict House had served a total of 83 men and 4 children, she added. A total of 43 different church groups come help prepare evening meals at the shelter.

Not only does Benedict House provide shelter, the staff conducts one-on-one case management with the men to help them put their lives back on track. Men typically meet with a case manager once a week. Curry hopes that those meetings can occur more often though recognizes that more money would be needed.

Sister Pat Millen created Benedict House because she wanted to have a safe environment for homeless men that had a “home environment” where people interacted with one another. The shelter opened in February 2006 and though Millen left Benedict House last summer to work at St. Joseph Family Center in Spokane, little has changed at Benedict House.

“My voice has been missed but the running of the program is going well,” Millen said from what she has heard from staff and residents.

Phedra Elliott, chairwoman of Kitsap Continuum of Care Coalition, said Curry and his staff are still involved with the coalition.

“Things are still running as they used to,” Elliott said. “And obviously they are a big provider in the county.”

Benedict House remains to be the only homeless shelter for single men and men with children in Kitsap County, said Elliott.

“He’s not someone who has come in and instigated changes,” said Site Monitor Terry, who declined to give his last name. “His philosophy is basically, ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it.’” Terry added that Curry is easy to get along with because he listens to staff members and is a “mellow.”

Not only does Curry listen to those working at Benedict House, he tries to meet all the residents as soon as he can.

And if he cannot meet them right away, he has his staff e-mail their photo.

“That visual helps remind me that these are unique individuals as I make decisions that affects their lives,” Curry said.

And as he balances his different roles with Catholic Community Services, he still manages to make time for his wife and kids, going backpacking in the Olympic Mountains and teaching an online Master of Nonprofit Management program through Regis University.

Curry admits that he never thought he would be working in human services. He worked in the Oregon Department of Forestry for seven years and as a certified diver, owned a dive shop in Albany, Ore. at one time. His first job with Catholic Community Services was in volunteer chore services in Aberdeen in 1996. He has been working with the organization since then. A friend suggested he apply for the job but Curry did not think he was qualified.

“A number of things came together that put me here,” said Curry. “It’s a perfect fit for me.”

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