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An enormous second floor space in Peabody with high ceilings, hardwood, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Sounds like a property that may be featured in Northshore Home, right? While the stunning space is not for sale, everything inside is.

Bridge Works Boutiques is a new space in an old factory at 58R Pulaski Street in Peabody, operated by Lifebridge North Shore, which works to meet the most urgent needs of the homeless and underhoused in our communities. In this case, the boutiques are filled with beautiful furniture, home goods, artwork, and other unique finds, which have been donated and are being sold to fund its mission.

Lifebridge has run its thrift shop in Salem for 15 years. There, bargain hunters will find everything from gently used household items to name-brand clothes, all at amazing prices. Last year it contributed $600,000 to fund essential programs.

“It became apparent that the furniture and larger items at the thrift shop were the most in demand and are the most profitable,” says Jason Etheridge, president of Lifebridge North Shore. “With this in mind we decided to open Bridge Works Boutiques and found the perfect space in Peabody.”

Jason Etheridge

“This is not Thrift Shop #2,” Etheridge is quick to point out. “Our volunteers fix and restore donations, turning them into pieces anyone would be proud to have in their home. This includes the people we serve that move into permanent or semi-permanent housing. They can come to the boutiques and pick up the pieces they need free of charge.”

In mid-December 2023, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual snapshot of the number of individuals in shelters, temporary housing, and in unsheltered settings. The report found more than 650,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2023, a 12 percent increase from 2022.

“We are in the midst of a housing crisis as well as a behavioral and mental health crisis,” says Etheridge. “While our economy works well for a small group of people, it is very expensive to be poor in our community.”

“More than half the people at the shelter we operate in Salem have jobs,” he adds. “On average people need $4,500 to get an apartment: first and last month’s rent, security deposit, and possibly a brokerage fee. This is a huge hurdle for many people that are trying to secure housing.”

One of those people was Donna Bishop, who lived in her car for two years before outreach workers found her turning purple on a very cold winter night. She found herself homeless after her husband died by suicide but didn’t want to go to a homeless shelter because of the stigma and shame. “There is so much hidden homelessness,” says Bishop. “Everybody is one debt, one paycheck, one tragedy, away from where I was. It is not because we did something wrong, and that is what people need to realize.”

After staying in the shelter, Bishop moved to Lifebridge’s permanent supportive housing on its Salem campus and recently into a one-bedroom apartment at the agency’s River House in Beverly. In 2023 River House transitioned from serving as a shelter for men into a safe haven for women due to the growing number of women experiencing homelessness. It is the only all-female shelter on the North Shore.

With physical locations in Salem, Gloucester, and Beverly, Bridge Work Boutiques is Lifebridge’s first foray into Peabody.

“We have found the community of Peabody to be incredibly welcoming,” says Etheridge. “We received an open-arms welcome from the city, the chamber, and the community. We have always served Peabody but never had a physical presence there until now and we are excited to be there.”

Stephanie Peach, Ward 3 Peabody City Councilor, agrees, saying, “I welcome Lifebridge and their new shop to Peabody as a great resource for our community. Bridge Works Boutiques is a valuable retail model with unique items for sale in a beautifully renovated space where proceeds will help their organization.”

Etheridge is hoping to transition Bridge Work Boutiques into a workforce program to teach the people they serve needed skills. “I envision a robust workforce development plan—teaching our clients about woodworking, interacting with people, delivering inventory, and running the register,” says Etheridge. “We will provide coaching support and integrate it into part of our service offerings, not just as something that supports us.

“As people learn about Lifebridge we hope they will donate furniture and other items they no longer want and shop at Bridge Works Boutiques to support the homeless and unhoused on the North Shore,” says Etheridge. “It is incredibly important because the issue of homelessness is likely to get much worse before it gets better.”