Shelter serves as port in a storm
BY THE NUMBERS
Last week, nonprofit workers and volunteers participated in a homeless count in Rock and Walworth counties.
In Rock County, volunteers worked overnight to try to connect with homeless singles and families living on the streets. Rock is one of only a handful of counties in the state that conducts a physical count, said Marc Perry, director of planning and development for Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties.
Other counties make phone checks of shelters and other services. Rock County does that in addition to a physical count.
The results of the Jan. 28 count:
Total sheltered homeless, Rock County: 273
Total unsheltered homeless, Rock County: 130
Total sheltered homeless, Walworth County: 93
Total unsheltered homeless, Walworth County: 31
Source: Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties
DARIEN TOWNSHIP Sara Humphrey’s story is all too familiar.
The 29-year-old mother of three had a job for three years before giving birth to her youngest daughter.
After maternity time, Humphrey went back to the same job—at a Delavan retail store—for a year before she needed a medical procedure.
After healing time, she was ready to get back to work. Her boss said “soon.”
“Soon” turned into weeks. Then months.
Eventually, Humphrey and her fiancé lost their Elkhorn apartment.
They tried to live with family, but that didn’t work.
Then the van died. Bills piled up.
“It seems like when one thing happens, it just snowballs,” Humphrey said. “It seemed like last year was just the worst.”
Humphrey lost her job in February 2009.
Now, she and her family are living at Twin Oaks Shelter for the Homeless on Highway 14 in Darien Township.
Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties manages the shelter.
Things are looking up, Humphrey said. On Thursday afternoon, she sat with her 3-year-old daughter, McKenzi, at the island in the shelter’s tidy communal kitchen.
She coaxed the energetic little girl into eating a snack of chicken nuggets and a banana. Pots and pans hung from an overhead rack. Brightly painted, numbered cabinets and three refrigerators held supplies for the singles and families living in the shelter’s 12 units.
Humphrey and her family moved to Twin Oaks in December. She wasn’t thrilled to move, she said.
“When I heard the words ‘homeless shelter,’ I was hesitant, as most people probably are,” Humphrey said. “I thought, ‘That’s not the best place to have kids.’”
She’s found the shelter to be a safe and comfortable space where she can gather the resources to move on.
In addition to food and shelter, Twin Oaks offers a phone and an Internet connection that’s helps for job hunting, she said. Transportation is available.
The shelter has “small,” “medium” and “large” rooms to house singles or families. When residents move in, they get food, cleaning supplies and—if they need them—coins for the communal laundry room.
An onsite food pantry is available, and a pleasant library holds books, movies and toys. Residents take turns cleaning the kitchen.
The best part is the shelter workers’ knowledge about local resources, Humphrey said.
“They want you to benefit yourself,” Humphrey said. “They don’t want you to just get on a program and sit.”
Twin Oaks staff members encourage residents to use available resources while they live at the shelter, Humphrey said.
“You don’t pay to stay here, and they encourage you to use all the resources you can,” she said.
That way, residents can save for security deposits and other moving costs, Humphrey said.
She and her family have found an apartment in Delavan where they can move in March when it’s time to leave the shelter, she said.
Humphrey had a job interview scheduled in Elkhorn on Thursday afternoon.
Only two households were on the waiting list for services at Twin Oaks on Thursday.
That number could change at any moment, said John Hembrook, shelter manager.
Last week, the number was at 16, and it’s been as high as 20, said Hembrook, who has worked at the shelter since 1993.
The number of families seeking services is “inching up” compared to past years when singles were more common, Hembrook said.
Many families have tried living in crowded situations that eventually broke down, said Hembrook and his colleague Marc Perry.
Perry is the director of planning and development for Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties.
The two said they have seen many families living doubled or tripled up with extended family members or friends. Divorced couples share homes with new boyfriends or girlfriends, they said.
Adults are trying to live with their adult parents.
All of these situations take emotional tolls, they said.
“I’ve seen a lot of families who have been living in tenuous situations for about a year,” Hembrook said. “They just can’t take it any more.”
Other families and singles have exhausted their social networks—if they had them in the first place, Hembrook said.
Humphrey knows what that feels like on top of feeling like everything else is going wrong.
“Situations happen,” she said “You can’t always control everything.”