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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 04:26 am

Budget cuts tie Helping Hands

Homeless shelter makes changes and seeks donations to make ends meet

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Homeless since May, Lloyd McCullough prepares mashed potatoes for himself and others who rely on Helping Hands of Springfield for assistance.
PHOTO BY RACHEL WELLS

Without access to a car, 49-year-old Lloyd McCullough walks more than four miles, six days a week, to get from Helping Hands shelter on the corner of 11th and Adams streets to his stocking job at Menard’s, on the northeast edge of town. Homeless since a breakup in May, McCullough hopes each night that his name is drawn in the shelter’s lottery so he can get a bed in a room where lights go out at 9 p.m. Up again at 3:30 a.m., McCullough is at work by 5 a.m. for a five-hour shift before heading back downtown, where by his return around 11:30 a.m., all he really needs is a little respite.

But, since Aug. 1, McCullough’s options are even more limited than before. Helping Hands has closed its doors between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in order to make up for new funding shortfalls caused by cuts in three separate grants that help keep the 22-year-old organization running.

“The most frustrating thing for me is that they close this place at 11 o’clock. That’s the most frustrating thing in the world,” McCullough says, explaining that all of his possessions were stolen from his hiding place a few days earlier. “If this place was open, I could have left my bag here, maybe. I would have been able to take a nap. I wouldn’t have been so tired. I wouldn’t have been so forgetful to leave my bag.”

This fiscal year, Helping Hands of Springfield expects cuts in three grants, for a total loss of about $90,000. Last year, a grant from Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity brought in about $49,000, but the shelter has yet to enter into a similar agreement for the current fiscal year. Another grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services brought in nearly $63,400 last year, but the state this year cut the grant by 52 percent to about $32,000. The shelter is also expecting to lose a $10,000 emergency food and shelter grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Though some staff members will still be available during the day on an appointment basis, as a result of the cuts Helping Hands is now essentially closed between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., a move executive director Brenda Johnson says should help the organization save about $15,000 in staffing costs. Not using most of the utilities during that time should also save the organization money, but Johnson says she’s not sure how much.

“We’re being proactive instead of reactive. We’re starting to cut back now instead of waiting until it was 10 below zero outside,” Johnson says, adding that clients can still go to St. John’s Breadline and the Washington Street Mission during the hours Helping Hands is now closed. “We were hoping that they would be able to pick up the slack, if any, of closing our lobby during the day,” Johnson says.

With a budgeted deficit of about $40,000, Helping Hands reached out earlier this summer to area businesses to hold supply drives to keep the shelter stocked with such items as toilet paper and paper towels.

In hopes that it can reopen its doors on a 24-hour basis, Helping Hands is also reaching out to those who are able to donate funds, but Johnson says it’s often difficult to convince people that her organization’s client population – made up of single men and women – is worth helping.

“The stigma that’s associated with our clients is that they choose to be homeless, which is not the case, or that they can do something about it. Well, certainly, if all of the services were in place to get them to a better spot, but when you don’t have the tools in your toolbox, you can’t necessarily make the project work.”

To learn more about Helping Hands of Springfield or to make a donation, call
744-0470.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

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