BY TOM DALTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — The building that houses the city’s homeless shelter was named yesterday in honor of the Marblehead man who helped the nonprofit organization find a new home, mission and name.
The shelter building and headquarters on Margin Street, a former church youth center, has been named the “Andrew and Carla Oliver Centre.”
Oliver, the former president of the board of directors, got involved with the shelter about a decade ago when it was on Crombie Street. He soon became a driving force behind the $2 million acquisition of the former St. Mary’s Italian Church complex from the Archdiocese of Boston, which cleared the way for the move to its present location.
The former investment banker also led a $5 million capital fund drive, contributing his own money to the cause.
Within a few years, Lifebridge, formerly the Salem Mission, converted two former church-owned apartment buildings into 22 residences for the homeless. That project signaled a shift in the organization’s mission from providing temporary, emergency shelter to trying to end homelessness through permanent housing, education and an array of support services.
Through that period of expansion and changing goals, the British-born Oliver became an outspoken leader and also a lightning rod for criticism from neighbors and others. Several speakers yesterday praised him for staying the course through sometimes rough seas.
“I’ve been in public service almost 20 years,” state Rep. John Keenan said, “and I can’t think of a more passionate person that I’ve met who’s fighting for a cause he believes in — ending homelessness — than Andrew Oliver.”
Lynda Fairbanks Atkins, the current board president, praised Oliver’s commitment and energy.
“Simply put, without Andrew’s vision and leadership, the Lifebridge you now know would not be what it is today.”
She lauded Oliver’s wife, Carla, for her “quiet, loving support” over the years.
Mayor Kim Driscoll, comparing the old shelter with the new, struck the same theme.
“To see what we have here — programs, offerings, a real path for folks — and that’s all due to your commitment,” she said to Oliver.
In addition to housing the homeless in its own apartment buildings, the 34-bed shelter (52 in winter) serves more than 225 meals a day, and offers case management and other services to help residents find permanent housing. It also has run programs on everything from anger management to knitting. Recently, clients have been earning college credits through Salem State University.
Oliver, who is still on the shelter board, thanked the organization for the honor and indicated he and they aren’t done yet.
“It has been a wonderful journey,” he said. “It isn’t finished.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.