This is the first in a series for Respect Life Month, which is observed annually in October. This year’s theme is “Faith opens our eyes to human life in all its grandeur and beauty.” As Pope Benedict XVI said during his recent apostolic visit to Lebanon, “The grandeur and the raison d’être of each person are found in God alone.”
By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Nearly 1,000 adults experiencing temporary or chronic homelessness turned to Humility of Mary Shelter Inc. during the fiscal year that ended June 30. These individuals struggle with one or more challenges such as mental illness, addictions, unemployment, physical disabilities, trauma or abuse. But the shelter they depend on faces an uncertain future without more financial support from the community.
Humility of Mary Shelter opened four years ago in the former John Lewis Homeless Shelter after it closed suddenly. Community organizations, with the Congregation of the Humility of Mary taking a lead role, responded to the crisis. The Sisters sponsor a transitional and permanent supportive housing program for single-parent families called Humility of Mary Housing Inc. That program did not have the financial means or additional personnel required to take over the shelter, but agreed to help shepherd the effort.
“At that time we said, ‘This has got to be a community effort,’” explained Sandy Walters, director of Humility of Mary Shelter Inc. Aside from government and private grants, “we said we needed about $300,000 a year from the community.”
Support has been forthcoming, but not to the extent needed. Humility of Mary Shelter’s income totaled $1,410,277.88 for the 2011-12 fiscal year while expenses totaled $1,471,529.68, resulting in a deficit of $61,251.80. “Our grantors tell us we have one of the leanest budgets,” Walters said. Thus, the shelter cannot absorb another financial loss of that size.
Walters, her staff and board of directors have developed fundraising efforts to try to address financial challenges and raise awareness about homelessness. “Night at the Shelter Sleep Out,” a poverty simulation event, is scheduled Oct. 19-20 in Davenport’s Modern Woodmen Park. An ongoing adopt-a-bed program invites individuals, businesses and organizations to adopt a bed at the shelter for one night for $10 or around $700 per night to adopt all the beds.
For many people in the Davenport Diocese, the homeless are out of sight and out of mind. From July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, the emergency shelter provided a place to stay for 984 homeless people — 712 men and 272 women ranging in age from 18 to 81. Forty-three percent were experiencing homelessness for the first time; 39 percent were homeless for the second or third time; 10 percent had been homeless four or more times in the last three years, and 8 percent had been homeless for one full year or longer, according to Humility of Mary Shelter’s annual report for 2011-12.
A combination of factors contributed to these individuals’ homelessness, the report says. The most common reason cited was unemployment (35 percent), a large increase from last year when 23 percent cited that reason. Inability to pay the rent or mortgage (25 percent) was the second most common reason cited.
Every homeless individual who walks through the door works with a service coordinator on developing goals and plans toward self-sufficiency. “We want to make sure people are ready to leave us … otherwise they’ll be homeless again,” said Cindi Gramenz, Humility of Mary Shelter’s program director.
Some of the shelter’s guests have jobs when they arrive, but those might be part-time, low-wage jobs that don’t stretch to cover rent, utilities, food and medical bills. “Because of low income, people are probably stuck in housing situations that aren’t suitable,” Gramenz added. Humility of Mary Shelter works in conjunction with other social service providers to help homeless people tap into the resources they need to obtain affordable housing and enhanced life skills. In addition, the shelter program offers a transitional housing program, permanent housing program and housing programs tailored to homeless veterans.
The percentage of individuals who moved into housing of their choice after leaving the shelter (58 percent) was lower than the previous year (73 percent). Several factors may have contributed to the decline, including the economic recession, lack of affordable housing for people with extremely low incomes and an overwhelming demand for the shelter during the 2011-12 winter, the annual report states.
Even so, Humility of Mary Shelter “offers opportunities for men and women experiencing homelessness to become emotionally, mentally and physically more stable,” the annual report points out.
Walters puts a face on that summary. A man, with tears rolling down his face, described for her the setbacks he’d endured: several major surgeries, mental health issues, the death of his mother, whom he’d taken care of, and the forced sale of her house. He ended up living in his car. “He felt so hopeless,” Walters said. The shelter’s programs helped him move forward and today he is living in one of the shelter’s permanent housing programs and is volunteering at a food pantry. Equally important, she noted, “He has a sense of hope.”
Poverty simulation event
What: Night at the Shelter Sleep Out
When: Oct. 19-20 at Modern Woodman Park on the Davenport riverfront.
Purpose: Poverty simulation event intended to raise awareness about homelessness in which participants spend the night in the park. Live music, games, ComedySportz, food, trivia, movies and a build your shelter contest are among the event’s offerings.