The Hospitality Center, 614 Main St., runs an emergency overnight homeless program
Housed within St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the program is run by volunteers and donations. The overnight program accepts people who are hungry and have no place to go during the coldest times of the year. But Stewart said the plan is to pull the plug on the overnight program as it operates now because he needs a different facility, and funds to pay and train staff to run the program.
“The target date to close is March 31, but that’s weather dependent,” he said.
Still, Stewart would consider operating an emergency shelter program in a different facility if he had a stable funding source, and some professional staff to help the volunteer staff.
In January, the community rallied together to raise $47,000 to help keep the program open. The church still has the money as those funds are restricted and will only be used to fund an emergency overnight shelter.
“We’ll honor that intent by which the funds were given to us,” Stewart said. “But we haven’t defined the methodology by which the overnight program will operate — whether it will be operated by us or someone else. And whether we continue to operate an overnight shelter-related program or someone else does, the money given to us will be used for an overnight shelter.”
But other shelters don’t operate the same as the Hospitality Center.
Because the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization (HALO), another shelter in town, received federal funding there are certain rules to which they must adhere, like verification of homelessness. But the Hospitality Center doesn’t receive that same funding, so they don’t run background checks on people or require guests to provide an eviction notice.
Still, there have been concerns voiced in the community about the safety issue of having so many people – families, active drug users, people with mental health issues and sex offenders – together at the Hospitality Center. Even though the families were separated into a different area of the church and volunteers patrolled the shelter throughout the night, the shelter cannot legally have certain sex offenders living in close proximity to one another.
Stewart is hoping to spur on a community conversation about the gaps in service that exist within the community.
HALO started 10 years ago and there are gaps in their service where people either could not or would not access HALO.
Because HALO is federally funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HALO has lost the ability to be flexible in whom they can accept. The federal funding has also become less reliable and this summer they plan on giving up the funding to become more flexible, said Kevin Cookman, executive director for HALO.
“The problem is, if the director of HUD changes or if a certain level changes, the interpretation of the law changes even though the law hasn’t changed and we all have to adjust to that,” Cookman said in a earlier interview.
The organization is in the process of weaning themselves off of that federal funding to become more flexible, but some restrictions — like housing homeless sex offenders — will remain.
The Hospitality Center tried to address that need in the community, which hasn’t gone away.
“The question for me is: is having people live on the streets OK? Is that OK?” Stewart said. “If the answer to that is no…. then we’ve got to find the who, what, when, where and how we’re going to fix this.”
A community conversation about this topic will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 24 at Gateway Technical College, 1001 S. Main St., in the Racine Building.