Responding to unmet needs in the community, downtown Raleigh congregations of diverse faiths and denominations form an organization offering food, financial assistance, medication, transportation, and referrals. Known initially as the Urban Ministry Center, the organization later becomes Urban Ministries of Wake County.
In the winter of 1983-84, two homeless men succumb to hypothermia in downtown Raleigh. The tragedy is a catalyst for Urban Ministries to open a homeless shelter. In June 1984, The Ark Shelter opens at 410 S. Blount Street, offering emergency shelter to 25 homeless men.
In October 1985, Urban Ministries opens the Open Door Clinic under the leadership of Raleigh urologist and patient advocate, Dr. Donald T. Lucey. The program is one of the earliest free and charitable clinics established in North Carolina and still in operation today.
In January 1986, The Ark Shelter expands to accommodate ten women. Two years later it relocates to 401 W. Cabarrus Street. In July 2000, it becomes an emergency shelter for homeless single women.
In November 2001, Urban Ministries’ homeless shelter is renamed the Helen Wright Center for Women in honor of Sister Helen Wright, the agency’s first director.
Urban Ministries moves its administrative offices and Crisis Support, Food Pantry, and Open Door Clinic programs to 1390 Capital Boulevard, expanding services to include day and evening medical clinics and an on-site pharmacy. The Open Door Clinic remains Wake County’s only free and charitable clinic with an on-site, fully licensed pharmacy.
After serving as Executive Director of Urban Ministries of Wake County for 26 years, Anne Burke retires and is succeeded by Dr. Peter Morris, longtime medical director at Wake County Human Services.
In April 2017, Urban Ministries’ Food Pantry becomes the largest in Wake County to offer client choice, allowing food-insecure families to choose their own groceries instead of receiving pre-bagged food. That same year, the agency responds to community need by increasing beds for emergency overnight shelter at the Helen Wright Center for Women.
In October 2018, Urban Ministries of Wake County announces a grant from Wake County to fund $2.4 million of a $3.5 million project relocating the Helen Wright Center to a larger facility at 3603 Bastion Lane. Scheduled to open in 2020, the new center will double the shelter’s current capacity and increase the number of emergency beds for homeless single women by 70% county-wide.