News and Tribune

January 31, 2013

ANDERSON: Why serve? Who serves?

Local columnist

— It was a gray and gloomy day. Typical wintry Monday. I had worked all weekend on this column. The phone rang at 4 p.m. and the entire thoughts about the column changed. The topic was to be about the history of homelessness and how it evolved. That will be next week. This column will be about why it is so important to serve the homeless and who serves them.

I answered the phone to a woman who could barely talk. She was crying so hard she was having trouble breathing. She was scared to death. She had been to one shelter and had been turned away. She had two children, 7-year-old twins. They had escaped violence and now had nothing but their clothing and their car, which was sitting on empty. When I told her I would make room she almost collapsed. She called back a few minutes later and a church had agreed to buy her gas so she could come. You could hear the relief in her voice. You could also hear the fear.

She and the hundreds like her are the why. Sometimes we forget to put the face to the message. It isn’t easy to live in a shelter; it’s even harder to live on the streets. People in our community, from our community do both every day. On any given night the shelter is full. Last year we served 819 unduplicated people at the shelter; we served 374 through outreach services to motels/hotels, cars, abandoned homes, etc. Twenty-seven more were served through transitional housing.  

Exit Zero has likewise served hundreds this year at the feeding site, which equates to thousands of meals.  In addition to the meals they served they advocated, they sought housing, they gathered clothing and goods and distributed them, and they went to bat for people. Tents were distributed because they were needed. We do not have enough of the right kind of housing to support all of the homeless.  

LifeSpring served many through its path program and its transitional housing program; it is being redesigned next year to become Clark’s first permanent supportive housing program and is long overdue.

The Salvation Army served hundreds last year through its transitional program and its hotel/motel program. They provided case management, oversight, groups, food and clothing. The referrals to permanent housing were many.

The Center for Women and Families continues daily to serve survivors of domestic violence, so much so that it is filled to capacity almost every day. The need is great. The women and their children receive case management, budgeting, housing counseling and referrals.

St. Elizabeth’s provides emergency housing and transitional housing services. St. Elizabeth’s also provides case management, budgeting, groups and referrals. Its primary focus is on young women who are pregnant and in need.  

This is the first tier of services to homeless people specifically designed to serve the homeless, in addition to these organizations are the invaluable Jeffersonville Township, Charlestown Township and township systems throughout both Floyd and Clark counties. Daily they see the homeless, provide bus tickets, and help with rent on an individual as-needed basis. They have provided funding, purchased and help maintain our buildings, and stood beside us in the effort to serve.

The most significant and probably least mentioned provider is the Church with a big “C.”  Hundreds of churches in this region support the efforts of all of the agencies and people who live homeless in our community. Wall Street United Methodist rebuilt the kitchen and the bathroom. Little Flock and Exit Zero rebuilt the staff/handicapped bathroom. Northside Christian provided work and food for several organizations. Park Memorial worked tirelessly to feed at Exit Zero and Haven House has volunteered to act as an overflow shelter for those in need. So many have come to help. Gilt Edge Baptist Church feeds daily Monday through Friday and supports our homeless through monetary support. St.Augustine’s, Sacred Heart, First Presbyterian, First Christian, I can’t list the churches because all churches help and there are hundreds. It has been truly a blessed partnership.

The Center for Lay Ministries is an external service that provides so much and they operate Bliss House for women with special recovery needs. Serenity House and Jerry’s Place are their counterparts for the male population. Turning Point is a drug/alcohol program for a mixed population operated by LifeSprings, as is Sarkisan House.  

A lot of support, but the support is not enough for the need to be met. We will never end homelessness without housing — that is just a fact. All types of housing —  permanent supportive housing; transitional housing; home ownership; scattered site; Section 8; mixed income housing, and yes public housing. We can’t afford to lose one unit of housing without an equal replacement. The challenge facing us will be big.  Where will it be built? Who will want it in their neighborhood? Who will build it and where will the money come from? Over the next few months we have a responsibility to answer those questions and to develop plans that will help us build safe, decent, and affordable housing for everyone.  The poorest of the poor need us as a community to look to the future with compassion and grace, in a Christian fashion with a Christian heart.  

— Barbara Anderson is the Executive Director of Haven House Services Inc. in Jeffersonville.