One of the region's biggest social services and psychological counseling agencies wants to expand its capacity to serve clients in Buffalo.
Jewish Family Services of Buffalo and Erie County – which serves a much wider clientele than its name would suggest – wants to buy a former funeral home in the University District that would become the new base for its mental health and behavioral health counseling.
The two-story brick Reger Funeral Home building at 3135 Main and 6 Highgate Ave. consists of two single-family homes that are attached. Plans call for reconfiguring the wide open downstairs space to create more private offices and increase handicapped accessibility.
"We have some really great programs that we provide through all of our different service areas. The biggest issue is we are literally out of space," said JFS CEO Molly Short Carr. "Counseling happens in a private room, and we have only so many private spaces to be able to house our counselors."
The organization has had the property under contract from the Reger family's Kelre Enterprises for about two months. But the closing and the entire project are held up by the pandemic because JFS can't get an inspector into the 4,813-square-foot building.
"The date is completely in the air," Carr said. "There are a lot of things that need to happen that we can't really do right now."
That includes talking with the surrounding neighborhood. JFS is seeking a special-use permit for a "human service facility" from the Buffalo Common Council, and had scheduled a meeting with community members, but had to cancel it after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo imposed the "New York on Pause" executive order. The agency hasn't been able to reschedule it.
"We want to be able to engage with the community more before we jump right in to being their neighbors," Carr said.
Besides clinical counseling and related functions, JFS is also a major refugee resettlement agency, working with various immigrant populations, and is a health home provider, offering care navigation services for people who are clinically frail. It also has a center for survivors of torture.
The agency is headquartered at 70 Barker St., on the second floor of Temple Beth Zion near downtown Buffalo, and plans to stay there. But it's also running out of space for its 48 employees and growing menu of services.
"We've been looking for a property to relocate a lot of our services for at least the last three years, but haven't been able to find a suitable building," said Blaine Schwartz, an attorney and board chairman for JFS. "We're out of room."
Schwartz and Carr said the Reger building is in an ideal location. The quarter-acre property is near the University at Buffalo's South Campus and is located on the Metro Rail and Metro Bus lines.
The agency currently is providing free therapy and other counseling to front-line essential workers, Carr said. JFS received a $75,000 grant from the WNY Covid-19 Community Response Fund to provide such help by phone or video to first responders, health care workers and others, at no cost.