The Open Hearth was founded in 1884 by members of St John’s Guild of Christ Church as a reading room that opened four nights a week from 6pm to 11pm. The purpose the Hearth was to offer men a place to meet, read and socialize, as a means to avoid the social ills of that time. In 1893, the Guild joined with the Men’s Bible Class from Christ Church and incorporated The Open Hearth providing it with more financial resources. Full time staff was hired and they raised funds to convert the reading room into a full time living facility with 40 beds. The basement was used as a stock room for wood. The first facility was located at Kilbourn Mansion on 135 Front Street.
By 1900 the Open Hearth had outgrown its facility and moved to its second location at 73 Grove Street, the Silas Deane mansion. It accommodated 57 men, and had a large reading room, kitchen and dining room and space for the wood yard. This space was supplemented by a two story structure built adjacent to the mansion. Social and labor conditions in the early 1900’s and the ebb and flow of employment opportunities led many men to the Hearth. It became a refuge for the down and out, and the unemployed.
In 1927, a four story brick building at 437 Sheldon Street was purchased to accommodate the growing number of visitors and residents. The basement was once again the hub of the wood business and a chair caning business was added. The Depression increased the number of residents to the point where men slept upright in chairs in the reading room as beds and floor space were full.
The postwar years brought younger unemployed and unskilled men to the Hearth. The response was to reshape its programs emphasizing the importance of learning and gaining employment skills and changing the Hearth from a religious mission to a rehab facility for potentially employable men. In the 1960’s the homeless population evolved into its current population as many of the men presented with substance abuse, mental health issues, and a lack of life skills, education and employment history.
Since its inception, The Open Hearth’s understanding of the challenges facing these truly disenfranchised men has evolved and deepened. In early 1991, it opened an addition which increased its resident capacity to 104 and its shelter to 25, and in the mid 1990’s a unique continuum of care model was instituted consisting of an Emergency Shelter, a Transitional Living Program (“TLP”), and single-room accommodations.