Friends of the Night People, forced a few weeks ago to close its doors to many of Buffalo's homeless and hungry, reinstated its open-door policy Tuesday.
The decision was made after the center's assistant director was found innocent of assault charges brought against her by a shelter client and a promise of "full cooperation" was made by Buffalo Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart.
Almost immediately, more than 100 men, women and children flocked into the shelter's dining room on Hudson Street.
"I am sure it will only take a couple of days before we are back to serving 200 to 300 daily," said Tom Harmon, center director. "And I must say, for all of us connected with the center, we are happy to do it again."
In late November, Justina Rivera, assistant director of the shelter, was assaulted by one of the clients. Ms. Rivera said the woman had become abusive and disorderly and when she ordered her out of the center, the woman attacked her.
Subsequently, the client charged Ms. Rivera with assault, and Ms. Rivera was arrested by Buffalo police.
Harmon said the not-guilty verdict Friday by City Judge Michael Broderick "has sent a message out to the streets that they cannot simply assault a shelter staff member and get away with it."
Harmon and his acting board president, Dr. M. Steven Piver, met Thursday with Degenhart, Inspector Thomas Kinsella and Niagara Station Capt. Marian Bass. Degenhart said he told the captain to supply the shelter with all necessary services.
"If there are any problems, I have told my officers to let me know immediately," he said.
Violence in the shelters is not unique to Friends of the Night People.
Lucky Hobson, assistant director of the City Mission, pointed to his shelter's brushes with violence.
"We have had a number of situations where knives have been pulled on our security guards," he said.
Hobson said the City Mission, the largest shelter in the city, has a list of people not welcome there.
"We know that Tom Harmon likes to open his doors to everyone, but we just don't feel that works," he said. "About the only time we make any exceptions with the barred list is during the severe winter weather. We will allow them in for the night and they usually behave."
Sister Mary Johnice, director of the Response to Love Center, credits her nun's habit with helping to keep things quiet in the soup kitchen.
"The veil definitely helps," she said, "because our clients will listen to me much more quickly than they do to our volunteers.
"But we definitely don't have the kinds of people we used to in the past. There is much more drugs and alcohol. . . . People have lost their jobs, been thrown out of their apartments or just not accepted, and they come in here with a chip on their shoulder and can become very nasty.
"If that does happen, I give them a dish of food to take out and simply ask them to leave. I tell them we have children here and what they are doing is not a good example for the children."