‘No Holidays for the Homeless’
Local Shelter Builds Self-Sufficiency
Leon and Michele Richardson came to Denison from Indiana looking for work. It seemed like a good idea except there was no place to stay as they attempted to make a new life. What were they to do? How were they to put a roof over themselves and six children?
Enter: the Grayson County Shelter.
The county’s only homeless shelter has been on Morton Street since 1987. A local doctor donated his clinic building after he retired for the shelter, which was operated by the Grayson County Ministerial Alliance. Even back then, the homeless problem was significant and the center quickly became a 24 hour facility with on-site employees and an executive director.
“There are no holidays for the homeless,” said Paige Furst, the shelter’s ED for three years. “We have 24 hour coverage 365 days a year.”
“This has been so great,” said Michele, whose family has been at the shelter about a month. “They have helped in a lot of ways.”
Leon was at work at the time of this interview because he had been able to get a job when having the stability of ‘a place to stay’ in the shelter. Michele listed some of the benefits of being there as ‘our family being able to find a job’ and ‘having a local phone number.’
“And the children absolutely love it,” she continued. “We have all them in school, too.”
As if to emphasize the statement, nine year old Aquila Richardson smiled and spoke out.
“This place is awesome!” said Aquila, a third grader.
According to Furst, the Grayson County Shelter’s purpose is to assist homeless families and individuals by giving them the tools/resources to become self-sufficient. The initial stay is 21 days with the residents aggressively pursuing employment and housing.
“By the end of that time, they should know what they are going to do,” said Furst. “In order to justify staying longer; the extensions are based on the effort put forth.”
Furst explained that since everyone has different needs, each homeless situation is done on a case-by-case basis. The shelter takes families with children, single women, married couples and men who are at least 55 years old. On average, there are about 40 residents at the shelter, Furst added.
“It’s higher in the summer and winter,” she said. “But the last couple of years, it has stayed high because of the economy. There are a lot of people in financial crisis.”
Furst explained that people have the idea that only the chronically poor are homeless. But the definition has changed since 2008.
“We see more middle class working families that have always made it before,” she explained. “But because of a job loss and being unemployed for an extended period of time, all their resources are used. Many end up homeless.”
The shelter has seven family rooms; two women’s rooms and one men’s room. There are 10 employees on staff to help keep the operation running smoothly, but the real work is done by the residents.
Furst listed that each resident had to do ‘chores’ such as laundry, cooking and cleaning. The shelter has a laundry room, kitchen, dining room, several bathrooms and a family room in addition to the bedrooms.
“They do all the cooking and cleaning,” said Furst. “We rotate each week; and we have help from those doing community service as well.”
Furst explained that the time at the shelter is to give the homeless ‘a chance to rebuild and take the next step.’
“There is caseworker follow-up; residents are expected to save 80 percent of income and they must have a plan,” she said.
Furst noted that a ‘success story’ for the shelter is the one where a family leaves in good standing and is able to support themselves in a stable housing situation.
“There are so many stories,” she smiled. “One mother lost everything when her daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After the treatment, they got into a rental; and the girl was able to graduate on time without interruption due to their homelessness. It was a real confidence booster for that young girl.”
Furst went on to say that the young lady volunteered at the “Crowded Closet,” the shelter’s thrift store, and even brought her high school classmates to help.
“It’s a great example of not letting up no matter how bad it is,” said Furst.
Just last week, the Grayson County Shelter received a $20,000 check to use for its childcare program. It was from Bank of America in Denison.
“It is a huge barrier,” said Jessica Duce, Bank of America assistant vice-president. “To take care of child care costs is such a blessing.”
“It feels great to help people in our community,” she continued. “I wouldn’t be where I am without child care.”
Furst added that Bank of America Charitable Foundation Vice President Anne Smith was instrumental in coordinating the donation for the shelter.
For more information, contact (903) 465-6041 or visit www.gcshelter.org