Helping homeless find shelter
Problem has personal, social, economic causes
By Robert Cloud
Since 2015, Foundations for Living in Waupaca has provided warm beds and a meal to those in need from Nov. 1 through May.
People may check in to FFL’s warming shelter from 6-7 p.m. and check out at 7 a.m.
FFL also offers case management services and help with enrolling in various state and federal assistance programs.
“We help people find resources,” according to Val Smith, FFL’s office manager.
Smith said FFL can provide emergency assistance with rent or utility bills, vouchers for clothing at the thrift store, hygiene items and contact information for private charities and government programs.
Among its most important outreach to the homeless, FFL offers classes, workshops and training.
“The majority of homelessness is a symptom of a larger problem,” said Associate Director Michael Hall.
Noting personal and social issues such as mental health, addiction and generational poverty, Hall said, “Shelter beds alone aren’t going to fix the problem. We have to get to the underlying issues.”
Hall said many of those experiencing chronic homelessness are living in fight-or-flight survival mode and struggle to think rationally and effectively about solving their problems.
“We’re not just giving them a bed, but we’re getting to the root of why they are homeless,” Hall said.
Last year, 43 individuals stayed at FFL’s warming shelter.
Among the programs that FFL offers is Fresh Hope, which brings people together who have mental health challenges. As a group they look at their childhood traumas, process their emotional pain and move beyond hopelessness.
Recovery coaches are available to help people move beyond their addictions one step at a time.
Jill Polifka provides case management services, connecting people to jobs, training and housing.
“We help people move forward and write their own plan,” she said.
Hall also attributed the problem of homelessness to the lack of affordable housing and reliable transportation.
He noted that the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Waupaca is up to $983. That represents a 52% increase over the past year.
Since 2016, average rent for a two-bedroom apartment rose from $794 to $1,250, according to Zumper, the online rental listing service.
A major challenge in serving people who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless is the difficulty they have in finding transportation.
“A lot of the people we serve live 5-10 miles away and have no transportation,” Hall said. “If you live in Scandinavia, you’re stuck unless you have a friend who can give you a ride.”
In rural areas, homelessness is often an invisible problem.
While there are a small number of homeless who live on the streets, most of them live with friends or family.
“Sofa surfing keeps it an invisible problem until it becomes a major crisis, until they have burned through their friends and relatives and no longer have any options left,” Hall said.
Polifka said living with someone else is considered being homeless “if you don’t have a dresser with at least two drawers for clothes.”
The sense of insecurity that comes from not having a place to call home can be stressful enough to lead to mental health problems, poor judgement and addiction issues, Hall said.
That is why FFL seeks to help people become self-sufficient by providing faith-based advocacy, education, emotional support and resources.