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Thursday, May 13, 2004 05:11 am

Limited safety net

Though built like a bouncer, social worker Robert Brooks can't help but wipe his eyes at the mere thought of the homeless man who froze to death in Springfield last winter.

Brooks, now the director of S.A.R.A Center, which assists homeless people with HIV/AIDS, for two years helped run the emergency shelter at The Salvation Army where Michael Moffett was last seen alive.

Brooks insists he did everything he could to help Moffett, who was said to be incommunicative and possibly mentally ill.

While "devastated" by the incident, Brooks says he's surprised such tragedies aren't more common.

"How many people didn't die that night?" Brooks asks. "There's over 1,000 homeless people in Springfield, and some 60 [emergency] beds. Would you not expect this to happen more?"

Experts say more shelter space is critical to curbing Springfield's homeless population, leading several local agencies to consider expansion.

For instance, Contact Ministries plans to open its large basement for emergency shelter use; Manna House may acquire a third property for transitional shelter; and The Salvation Army hopes to relocate to a building twice its current size (see story, page 9).

These are three of more than a dozen shelter providers in Springfield, each of which focuses on serving specific sectors of the homeless population.

P.O.R.A solely shelters female prostitutes, while Youth Service Bureau houses juveniles, and Fifth Street Renaissance takes in adult men and women.

Some agencies, like The Salvation Army and Contact Ministries, have been around for decades, while others, like Manna House and Haven House, are relative newcomers.

Coincidentally, many agencies are celebrating anniversaries this year.

M.E.R.C.Y. Communities, which assists single mothers with children, turns 5-years-old; Inner City Mission, which also focuses on single women with children, and S.A.R.A. Center, each turn 10; Mini O'Beirne Crisis Nursery, which helps abused and neglected infants, turns 15; and Sojourn Shelter, which aids domestic violence victims, turns 30.

As the list below demonstrates, much of the city's infrastructure to shelter the homeless falls into the hands of a few. Many agencies operate on shoestring budgets with just a handful of paid employees who serve hundreds, if not thousands, of people a year.

While many of the agencies have different methods of treatment and care, and sometimes are at odds with one another as they compete for the same government grants, there is at least one point on which all can agree: their success depends heavily on help from the community at-large.

"Volunteers are the backbone of the agency," says Kathleen Heyworth, director of Mini O'Beirne.

"I don't know what we'd do without them."

 

CONTACT MINISTRIES

1100 E. Adams St., 753-3939

History: Founded in 1978 by several area churches, the agency expanded to include a homeless shelter in 1993.

Shelter: Provides emergency and transitional shelter to women and children; has seven rooms, with a maximum capacity of 25.

Other services: Operates a food pantry; provides clothing and school supplies; and administers medical assistance.

Operations: Receives city, state, and federal funding, as well as donations from area churches; has an annual operating budget of $440,000; employs eight full-time workers and five part-time workers; and relies on 10 volunteers a week.

 

FIFTH STREET RENAISSANCE

518 N. Fifth St., 544-5040

History: Started in 1985 as the first transitional shelter to open in Springfield.

Shelter: Provides transitional shelter for men and women at two local facilities: 518 N. Fifth St., which houses up to eight people, and 1100 S. Pasfield Ave., which houses up to 19 people.

Other services: Operates a food, clothing, and household item pantry; assists families at risk of losing custody of their children due to homelessness; and assists older youths released from the state foster care system who become homeless.

Operations: Receives government funding; has an operating budget of less than $200,000; employs four full-time workers and one part-time worker; and relies on 15 volunteers a month.

 

HAVEN HOUSE

2525 Taylor Ave., 527-1006

History: Started in 2001 under the umbrella organization of Abundant Faith Ministries, which began in 1993 as a food pantry.

Shelter: Provides transitional shelter for women who are single or have children, with an occupancy of four families.

Other services: Offers child care; job training; educational programs; and operates a food pantry.

Operations: Receives government funding; and employs two full-time workers.


HELPING HANDS

200 S. 11th St., 522-0048

History: Started in 1989 with assistance from the Mayor's Office, the agency expanded and relocated to its current address in 1993.

Shelter: Provides emergency shelter to adult men and women, with 23 beds and 5 additional floor mats; also provides transitional shelter for up to 10 people.

Other services: Provides free phone, laundry, and shower services; counseling; and referrals.

Operations: A United Way agency that receives city and state funding; employs four full-time workers and six part-time workers; and relies on 20 volunteers a month.

 

INNER CITY MISSION

720 N. Seventh St., 525-3940

History: First opened on North Fifth Street in 1984, has since expanded to include a cluster of three buildings at 714, 720, and 726 N. Seventh St.

Shelter: Provides transitional shelter to as many as 19 families comprised mostly of single women with children.

Other services: Offers Christian Bible study four evenings a week; teaches clients to budget their incomes; and distributes thousands of articles of clothing and furniture each year.

Operations: Has eight paid employees, and is supported by donations from 300 area churches.

 

MANNA HOUSE

619 W. Capitol Ave., 280-0036

History: Founded in February 2003 to help homeless men transition into permanent housing.

Shelter: Operates two transitional housing shelters in Springfield, each of which has an occupancy of eight people. The shelter locations are not disclosed to the public.

Other services: Distributes free clothing and operates a food pantry.

Operations: Funded by donations from churches, businesses, and individuals; run by six volunteers.

 

M.E.R.C.Y. COMMUNITIES

108 E. Cook St., 753-1358

History: Founded in 1999 to help transition single mothers with children into permanent housing.

Shelter: Provides a two-year transitional shelter program for mothers and children; has 10 apartments with 40 beds for mothers with up to three kids, ages 12 and under.

Other services: Offers child care services; budgeting and food preparation classes; and a five-year after care program.

Operations: Receives city, state, and federal funding, as well as private donations; has an annual operating budget of $325,000; employs eight full-time and seven part-time workers; and relies on 25 volunteers a month.

 

MINI O'BEIRNE CRISIS NURSERY

1011 N. Seventh St., 525-6800

History: Started in 1989 and named for its founder, legislative aide Mini O'Beirne, who died of cancer just months before it opened.

Shelter: Provides emergency shelter to infants and children from birth to age six, and has a 10-person occupancy.

Other services: Offers free clothes for kids; diapers and formula; and utilities assistance.

Operations: Receives city, state, and federal funding; operates on an annual budget of $325,000; employs 15 full-time and part-time workers; and relies on more than 20 volunteers a week.

 

P.O.R.A.

930 S. 11th St., 522-3922

History: Founded in 1992 to help transition women out of prostitution. P.O.R.A. is an acronym for Positive Options, Referrals and Alternatives.

Shelter: Provides transitional shelter to female prostitutes, most of whom struggle with drug addiction and were victims of childhood sexual abuse; houses up to six women.

Other services: Offers outreach services; HIV testing; safe sex education classes; and condom distribution.

Operations: Receives state funding; has an annual operating budget of $190,000; employs three full-time workers and 10 part-time workers; and relies on 20 volunteers a month.

 

THE SALVATION ARMY

530 N. Sixth St., 525-2196

History: First opened in 1886, has operated a shelter since 1958. Current shelter, called Carpenter's Shop, has operated year-round since May 2003.

Shelter: Provides emergency shelter to men and women with an occupancy of 38 beds, and unlimited mats, when needed.

Other services: Offers free transportation in the forms of bus tokens and tickets and gasoline; free clothing; utility assistance; and operates a food pantry.

Operations: Has an operating budget of $725,000; employs nine full-time workers and six part-time workers; and relies on at least 20 volunteers a month.

 

S.A.R.A. CENTER

1315 N. Fifth St., 523-2191

History: Founded in 1995 by Sister Mary Ellen Rombach, a Franciscan nun, to provide services to people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. SARA is an acronym for Springfield AIDS Resource Association.

Shelter: Provides emergency shelter that holds up to 10 people; transitional shelter that holds up to 10 people; and eight apartments for permanent housing. The location of its housing facilities are not disclosed to the public.

Other services: Offers medication assistance; massage therapy; free laundry facilities; and operates a food pantry.

Operations: Receives city, state, and federal funding, as well as donations from churches and individuals; has four full-time employees; and relies on 40 volunteer hours served a week.

 

SOJOURN SHELTER

1800 Westchester Blvd., 726-5200

History: Founded in 1975 to provide assistance to victims of domestic abuse.

Shelter: Provides emergency shelter to victims of domestic violence, with the capacity to house a maximum of 32 women and children at a time.

Other services: Offers crisis counseling; court advocacy; and operates a 24-hour hotline.

Operations: A United Way agency that receives state and federal funding, as well as donations from individuals and businesses; has an annual operating budget of $1 million; employs 15 full-time workers and seven part-time workers; and relies on 150 regular volunteers a year.

 

WASHINGTON STREET MISSION

408 N. Fourth St., 544-9011

History: First opened in 1910 as a rescue mission, spent most of its years at Eighth and Washington streets before moving to its current location.

Shelter: Since November 2002 has operated a transitional shelter for men only with a five-person occupancy.

Other services: Offers free coffee and doughnuts every weekday from 9-11 a.m.; an after-school tutorial program for low-income kids; and distributes, on average, 10,000 items of clothing to 500 people each month.

Operations: Relies on donations from churches, businesses, and individuals; has an annual operating budget of $225,000; employs five full-time workers; and relies on 60 volunteers a month.

 

YOUTH SERVICE BUREAU

2901 Normandy Rd., 529-8300

History: Founded in 1978 as a child welfare agency licensed with Illinois Department of Family and Children Services.

Shelter: Provides emergency and transitional shelter to up 10 youths, male or female, ages 16 to 18.

Other services: Offers eight programs designed to assist youths who are abused, neglected, homeless, truant, or delinquent.

Operations: Funded by state and federal grants; has an annual operating budget of $1.2 million; and employs 22 full-time and part-time workers. Volunteers are appreciated, though they do not work with youths to maintain client confidentiality.

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