SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 1, 2012

$100,000 helps Beverly shelter reopen

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Ralph Bates doesn’t live in Beverly and had never heard of River House.

But when his stockbroker read a story about the homeless shelter’s financial troubles, Bates decided to do what he’s been doing often over the last few years — take out his pen and write a big, fat check.

“I’m a bachelor, no kids, I’m 81,” he said. “I figure I can’t take it with me, so I might as well be good to a lot of people.”

The Manchester-by-the-Sea resident has donated $100,000 to River House, which is scheduled to reopen today after closing temporarily on April 30 due to money problems.

The contribution stunned and delighted River House officials, who have been trying for years to keep the shelter up and running.

“It was astounding,” said Kate Benashski, executive director of River House. “The generosity is unbelievable. Single, homeless men often don’t get a lot of attention in a positive way. For him to think about them and make a donation is just a remarkable gesture.”

Bates downplays how he accumulated his wealth, saying he was in the right place at the right time. He owned the Greater Boston House Buyers Guide for 23 years and a large apartment building in Arlington that he recently sold after 45 years.

“I was lucky,” he said. “It wasn’t my brain, I know that.”

Bates donated $1 million to The Jimmy Fund in 2006, $300,000 to the ALS Association in 2010, and $100,000 to the Pine Street Inn in Boston this year. He has also given $1 million to a community center in New Brunswick, Canada, where his family is from, as well as donations to several other local charities and organizations.

He has also agreed to match new donations to River House up to $25,000.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to do that, to have people you don’t even know come up and tap you on the shoulder,” he said. “I’ve done quite a bit and I’m going to do quite a bit more.”

River House, which has been funded mostly by private donations since it opened in 2005, has also been boosted by $200,000 in state funding, as well as $20,000 from the city of Beverly.

Benashski said the infusion of cash has enabled River House to increase its staff from seven to 10 and will allow the shelter to stay open 24 hours per day. Case managers will help the men at the shelter find work and permanent housing.

The shelter, which can serve 22 to 34 men each night, got a facelift during the five months it has been closed, including painting, landscaping, new furniture and lockers. Instead of sleeping on mats on the floor, men will now sleep in new cots that can be stacked to save space.

There’s even a new sign with a new logo on the front of the house, which is on River Street across from the train station. In May, Harborlight Community Partners in Beverly took over as the shelter’s fiscal agent.

Benashski said all of the changes have given new life to River House.

“This is just such a boon to the program and to the community,” she said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.