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New Community Shelter: Helping People Help Themselves…

A message from the New Community Shelter Director Terri Rufsgard:

Kevin is a young man who has spent most of his life in foster care. He has some obvious special needs but nothing severe. Kevin came to us on a Wednesday in January. I suspect for any individual checking into a homeless shelter for the first time – the day is memorable. This day was even more so for Kevin. It was at the beginning of his intake interview that it was noted by staff that it was his 18th birthday--a day in his former home which marked the day he was to move out.

Mary is an older woman – very quiet – very polite. Mary has been single all of her life – at one point she had her own business that she ran out of her parent’s house...while she took care of them before they each passed away. After her parents' death, Mary found it difficult to maintain the very large home, and rather than lose the home, she was forced to sell it for far less than it was worth. Being the caretaker type by nature and by profession, for some years Mary went on to work as a live-in caretaker, caring for others in their homes. Though she enjoyed the responsibility, the low pay and absence of health insurance caught up with her. After caring for a woman who became a close friend throughout the years, her friend passed away. Though the family was appreciative for Mary’s care of their mother throughout the years, the family informed Mary she had to leave as they were selling the house. Mary receives Social Security Disability so her Case Manager got her connected up to an affordable apartment.

Thomas is a 68 year old gentleman who has spent most of his life homeless. At some period in his life he applied for Social Security and he does receive around $700 per month. Thomas is a chronic alcoholic and has some very severe health issues. All attributed I’m sure to his many years of unhealthy living. Thomas has a daughter – an adult daughter. Once a month his daughter searches the community to find her dad. He usually knows about the time she starts searching is usually when his social security check hits the bank. She searches relentlessly until she finds him, takes him to the bank to cash his check, takes the money and disappears till the next deposit is made. Thomas will tell you that’s his “baby” and she needs the money. As I said, Thomas has lived many years as a chronic alcoholic. Last month, Thomas moved into the New Community Shelter and has remained sober since. His Case Manager is working with him on that. His daughter, on the other hand, unfortunately seems to find him while he’s out going to appointments set up for him regarding his AODA issues, just to “swing by the bank” for a moment. We’re working on it...

Margaret is a 32 year old native of Green Bay. She had a job, an apartment, and a car (that ran most of the time). She also had a gentleman she fully expected to marry, well, until she came home one day and he was gone. But there was a note stating that she could keep the car. She still had her job - a low-skilled, low-paying job. She had her apartment that was unfortunately in only her name – oh, and the utility bills all in her name – all totaled requiring two incomes to afford and one income was gone. But she had the car. She had family in town, but did not want them to know what had happened. She lost the apartment and was evicted. She still had the job and thankfully she still had the car because even during some of the coldest days of our winter – Margaret’s car – became her home. Then one evening she joined us for the Community Meal with someone she knew from work, inquired about if we had room, and stayed that evening. Today I suspect Margaret has the same car. I know she has a better higher paying job – with insurance – and she has an affordable apartment. She just needed a little help in knowing where to start...then she did.

I presented 4 stories of four very different individuals, only one of which spoke of challenges with alcohol. For the most part, the stories of the lives we see typically include some form of bad decision-making at some point. Like that doesn’t describe all of us at some point in our lives!! Unfortunately most of the people we see have no “safety net” of family or friends in place to catch them if they fall because of those poor decisions. For some – they do have friends and family, but they have called for the “safety net” one too many times – and maybe the fact that the safety net is NOT there is just what they needed to take a hold of their own lives and their own destiny. And last but not least, the group I believe we will be seeing more of: those who are simply the victims of circumstance. Those that may have “fallen” but just need a hand in maneuvering through the resources available to help them get back on their feet and back to being self sufficient.

It’s been said over and over again: no one wants to be homeless. For more people than you can imagine, the type of place an individual slept the night before they come through our doors typically includes their car, a friend or family members garage floor -- or, if they're lucky, someone’s couch. In many cases our work here needs to begin with restructuring people’s thinking and decision-making process. When you have little or nothing it is difficult to get in the habit of thinking past today or tomorrow because today has to be the priority if you have no place to sleep or eat.

Today, I send this to you for two reasons. Please help us build awareness for what we do here at the New Community Shelter. In these trying economic times, if you come across someone who may be struggling, suggest they contact us BEFORE they become homeless for help. Maybe our Case Management team can provide them information on resources in our community that might be of help to them.

Second, please keep in mind those in our community who are struggling. The number of people we see here at the shelter as well as those in need who join us for dinner is sure to grow as time goes on. My prediction is that it will take another six months or so before those who are today struggling will have tried all other options before coming to us for help. If your workplace, your club or organization, your family, or your church has the opportunity to do even small fundraising projects throughout the year, please keep our residents' needs in mind. We are in for a challenging year with the anticipation of expenses rising while the economy seems to be putting a damper on financial contributions.

Also please watch for and consider supporting our Annual Appeal which will kick off April 1st

I will keep you posted...

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