Shelter, food pantry see rise in dependants

By Kelly Bauer

While a stagnant economy is not the only cause of homelessness, it plays a role in the rise of displaced individuals and families, said Michael Newman, Hope Haven emergency shelter coordinator.

Newman said people at Hope Haven have also become homeless because of mental illness, an unstable environment or a domestic cause. Charitable organizations that help the destitute of DeKalb, like the homeless shelter Hope Haven and the Salvation Army’s Emergency Food Pantry, are coping with the rise of dependents with the community’s help.

Hope Haven, 1145 Rushmoore Drive, has been full for three years. Newman said 20 to 25 families a month are turned away, but this number should decrease when the organization’s expansion, which will add 30 beds, is completed at the start of December.

“We help people who are turned away,” Newman said. “We recommend them to other shelters. If they’re not able to get into a shelter right away, we provide meals. They can come in, take a shower and eat.”

The shelter receives several grants from DeKalb’s city government, Newman said. Also, the DeKalb community brings in one meal a night for free.

The Salvation Army’s Emergency Food Pantry, 830 Grove St., also seeks to help DeKalb citizens in need, even though it’s experiencing difficulties. Food pantry coordinator Gary Billings said anyone who meets the federal government’s definition of living in poverty and can show proof of residence can receive one free meal a month at the pantry.

Billings said the pantry saw a 33 percent increase in dependents in the last five months, while there was a 75 percent decrease in commodities received from the government. Overall, the Salvation Army reported a 94 percent increase in demand of food services at the food programs surveyed in 2010, according to the organization’s 2011 Feeding the Need report.

“We’ve been averaging over 600 families a month of people in need,” Billings said. “That’s approximately 2,400 people a month – more than that, actually.”

The pantry also receives food and monetary donations from churches, organizations and individuals.

Billings said he thought more people were out of jobs and at the end of their unemployment, creating the upsurge in pantry users.

Newman said even those who are employed can become homeless if they don’t have a stable job.

“The lack of stable employment is probably the most giving reason why there’s a big surge in homelessness,” Newman said. “With people being hired by temp agencies, what happens is you work for 90 days and then you’re off for 30. That month off can be detrimental for a family that’s living check-to-check. But people are happy to work, so that’s a good thing.”

The city police department also offers aid to homeless members of the community. DeKalb Police Lt. Carl Leoni said the police department tries to get information about shelters to homeless people.

“Every so often, county-wide, they do a homeless count and they ask the police officers who are aware of any homeless people to give that input so they can keep track of how many [homeless] are out there and where they’re staying,” Leoni said. “That way, they can try to send some services their way.”