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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 09:36 pm

Better facilities planned for the homeless

Day center needs may be covered by expanding shelters

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Springfield's homeless and their advocates have long promoted the idea of a separate day center, but as two local nonprofits expand their space and services, that need could be eliminated.

The Salvation Army began its search for a new site more than four years ago, after the needs of its homeless shelter and community center exceeded their current 35,000-square foot space at Sixth and Carpenter streets. Dave MacDonna, capital campaign and development director, says they need something with at least 60,000 square feet and have set their sights on a building on Ninth Street.

The organization plans to increase the number of beds in its homeless shelter from 40 to 100 and add private rooms for families. More computers and a telephone voicemail system — accessible during the day — are also possibilities.

Archie Ford, shelter director, says that when space is available, the Salvation Army offers clients a bed, access to its computer lab and an evening meal. They can go to St. John’s Breadline for breakfast and lunch and take showers or do laundry during open daytime hours at Washington Street Mission. Ford says the combination of these services, plus fellow nonprofit Helping Hands’ own relocation plan, could meet the city’s need.

“With the expansion of the two shelters, we’re not sure we’ll need a day center,” Ford says. “But we haven’t ruled it out either.”

Brenda Johnson, executive director at Helping Hands, plans to make the move from a 2,400-square-foot facility at 200 S. 11th St. to a building with at least 8,000 square feet. Preliminary plans call for men’s and women’s dormitories, complete with individual restrooms and showers, to accommodate 50 to 60 overnight clients, as well as a large multi-purpose area and a computer lab or classroom with continued daytime hours.

“For us, it would be a bigger space for what we’re already doing,” Johnson says. “It wouldn’t be anything new. We’ve always allowed our clients to stay in house all day.”

Currently clients spend time in the organization’s waiting area, which Johnson describes as a very small day center. They can use the phone for employment purposes or meet with caseworkers to find more community resources. Since most clients work during the day or go to appointments, she adds, Helping Hands rarely has a packed house unless it’s raining or cold outside.

MacDonna sees something similar at Salvation Army. There are usually only four or five clients in the shelter during the day, he says, and most of the time they’re working on resumes or contacting employers.

“Seventy-five percent of our shelter resi

dents work full time, and the other 25 percent are looking for work, going to training classes, or meeting with various social service agencies in town,” MacDonna says.

In an earlier interview Johnson pointed to funding as an additional issue. Since it’s costly to operate overnight shelters and there’s already limited available resources, she said, opening a whole new agency for the purpose of the daytime might not be viable for Springfield.

“We want the clients to have a place to be, but when you factor in the serving times at the Breadline, the mission’s hours and what services might be available between the other two agencies, you might have it covered,” Johnson said.

Homeless United for Change, a local advocacy group, lists establishing a day center as one of its three goals, along with permanent housing and additional emergency crisis beds for the homeless.

Bryan Finn, a member of the group’s day center subcommittee, has been drafting a business plan that considers three project components: location, funding and leadership.

Location is key, he says. The center needs to be along the bus route and in close proximity to overnight shelters and services. Funding is also critical — his subcommittee has researched possible grants and even projected the costs to purchase, renovate and operate available downtown buildings. A final consideration, he adds, is suggesting qualified organizations that could manage the day center.

“We’re doing some groundwork with the intent to share it openly,” Finn says. “We’re just helping to advance this area of the homeless situation. Many of us don’t think it can be met with the current resources of the community.”

HUC envisions the establishment of a resource center — not just another shelter — open seven days a week, 365 days a year. Mental health resources, job placement resources, lockers, showers, laundry facilities and healthcare are all services members would like to include in their proposal.

Finn plans to submit his subcommittee’s business plan to the mayor’s office and says he’s had discussions with Salvation Army and Helping Hands. It’s not HUC’s goal to duplicate services, he says, especially since everyone has limited resources and budgets.

“Both organizations provide great resources and they’re critical to our community,” Finn adds. “If we can collaborate so all of these services can be offered there, that’s wonderful. We want it to be inclusive, not exclusive. We’re all in this together.”

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