Helping people find a better future for themselves is what we do. Last year, we helped a new record of 265 people find a place to live. That’s a success story every 33 hours, which is considered quite extraordinary for an emergency shelter. It can be very difficult to help people escape homelessness. People come to us 365 days per year, and many come to us directly from the streets. Some people are down on their luck, having lost a job or their home, but many come to us with substance use issues, cognitive delays, significant mental health issues, serious physical impairments and even terminal illnesses. I’d also like to point out that I’m only mentioning one type of success in this story. We also have several people find employment, kick their addictions, stabilize their mental health conditions and a host of other large and small successes they make happen in their lives with our guidance and assistance.
The Torres Community Shelter is the most successful program we have in the area for helping people out of homelessness, and we continue to be year after year. We are proud of that, especially when our doors are open to anyone who may walk up any day of the year to stay dry and warm.
Yet some parts of our program that help us to be successful, can, at times, spark negative comments and misunderstandings. The two things that come immediately to mind are being a “dry” shelter and always having beds open. We’re proud to be a dry shelter, drug and alcohol free. We feel it’s important for people to be sober and drug free in a shelter that serves children daily and also serves people who are fighting to overcome addictions. A dry shelter can help people fighting addictions to hold onto their personal sobriety because they’re in a clean, drug and alcohol-free environment. That being said, we’ve never claimed or wanted to be the only approach or option for people who are homeless, and we’ve voiced our support for other service providers, partners and other proposed initiatives. Each agency has their own philosophy and these different approaches are really helpful because different people will respond to different intervention strategies.
Besides being a dry shelter, the fact that we’ve never been full sometimes sparks negative comments. About two months ago, I met a man who is loosely associated to half a dozen groups with which I am connected. We’d never met before, but within a few minutes he told me that I should be ashamed that the Torres Shelter has never been full. He said it was proof that I’m not really doing my job. He said that Torres is the biggest reason for “the homeless” problem, and that if we’re not full, it’s proof that we don’t care about “the homeless”. Stinging a bit, I responded by asking how many people he’d helped to escape homelessness…but then I shared that it’s our intention to always have beds available because always being full is when emergency shelters transition from being a place that “helps people” to just a warehouse where “those people are kept”. The man then said it wasn’t “personal”. Nothing could be more personal for me. Helping people get out of homelessness is what I do, what we do.
Well, I’m going to share a few things with you that this individual was frankly unable to hear in case others have pondered the same questions. I’m glad that we’ve stayed ahead of the demand for a dry shelter. It’s been intentional. We do need other options in our community, and I’ve always voiced my support for these other options. However, we can’t give up on a program that has generated more success than any other initiatives in our community year after year. We should support it, and add to it, while addressing the gaps that still exist around it. I’m also glad we’ve never been full. We’ve worked hard to ensure that our capacity continues to outstrip the demand for a dry shelter. I hope to never have to turn people away due to space limitations. It’s not only because of the horrible feeling of sending people away, it’s also so we don’t want to have to decide who is “worthy” to get a bed. Many shelters across the country have needed to start doing lotteries or raffles or have massive restricted stays like 5 nights or 7 nights maximum. How much positive change can most people accomplish in 5 nights or accomplish when, each day, they are powerless to ensure whether they can sleep in the same bed as the night before? I believe that when shelters across the country have had to resort to these types of methods they often cease being “agents of change” in people lives and have just become “warehouses” and then safety concerns follow shortly after. As for us, it’s responsible to stay ahead of demand…to have more beds than people and we’re thankful we’re able to do so.
Homelessness has become a very divisive topic in our community and too many people seem to have thrown up their hands in defeat. Helping people out of homelessness is very challenging, but no one can tell me that it isn’t worthwhile or possible because I see the results daily and a success story every 33 hours speaks for itself.