Hope Haven helps the homeless with meals and shelter

By Danny Ciamprone

DeKALB | There has always been a strong sense of comfort knowing at the end of the day one has a home to go back to. Unfortunately, for many this is not a reality and being homeless becomes a way of life.

Hope Haven, 1145 Rushmoore Drive, focuses on providing shelter and meals, assisting in moving to permanent housing and to advocate the rights of homeless individuals and families, according to its website.

Executive Director Lesly Wicks said when Hope Haven started back in the ‘90s, the main population was single men with no children. Over the last ten years, she has seen the numbers shift from single people, to entire families becoming homeless.

“Right now 40 percent of the homeless population in the country is families with children,” Wicks said. “Not only did our family program fill up, but our emergency shelter dorm for single women started filling up with women with children. The need in the community is for shelter for women and children, with women being the most vulnerable.”

Wicks said over the past two years there was a drastic need to expand because of long waiting lists. Continuum of Care, Inc., a non-profit organization, conducts a homeless survey every other year to count unsheltered people living in the community. Consistently the number has been between 25-30 unsheltered people in DeKalb.

“Last year we had to turn away 397 people,” Wicks said. “One-hundred-ninety were turned away because they weren’t eligible because they couldn’t prove they were from the county. Two hundred seven, though, had to be put on the waiting list because of over capacity, 99 being children.”

Because of this immense need for homes, the shelter has planned a 4,000 ft. expansion project which would be built off the shelter’s kitchen. It will include a 30 bed men’s dormitory, a playroom and a large classroom. The shelter wants to raise $950,000 dollars and plans to start construction on July 1 of this year.

In the past, several residents of the homeless shelter had jobs or were working towards their GED’s, said Wicks. She said because of the current economy, there are fewer people residing at the shelter who fit this description.

Sue Guio, Hope Hevan board member, said there are two reasons for this.

“The housing market became a lot tighter for subsidized housing so families haven’t been able to move out of the transitional housing any sooner than two years,” Guio said. “The second thing is we’ve of course been seeing more families coming in to the emergency side.”

The emergency side refers to DeKalb residents who need immediate housing, but had to be turned away due to over capacity. Guio said this impact has been seen mainly in the past five years. Most of the families on the emergency side in the past had jobs, but they lived pay check to pay check. Now, those individuals usually do not have jobs.

Hope Haven also assigns a case manager to help each family transition out of the shelter.

“Their first job is to talk with the family and find out what their barriers are to providing housing for themselves,” Guio said. “They have to then set up a plan that will help them eliminate those barriers.”

She said the ‘do-not-return rate’ for previously homeless people at Hope Haven is 95 percent, which means only five percent return after leaving.

“If they have followed the plan of action set in place then by the time they leave they are truly on a path towards changing their lives completely,” Guio said. “The staff there really takes heart to its residents.”