There’s no agenda behind the Hospitality Center — unless you call feeding hungry people an agenda, but many people in the community don’t subscribe to the notion that this approach to helping people works at getting them off the streets.

Whether the Hospitality Center continues serving homeless Racine-area residents will be up to the city Plan Commission, which meets July 29.

In a nutshell, officials in the city attorney’s office have received complaints about how the Center grew from a day program into a full-on homeless shelter during the winter, and from serving light snacks and refreshments to the city’s largest hot meal program. Because the Hospitality Center’s services have expanded past its original conditional use permit, Hospitality Center executive director Rev. Kevin Stewart has been notified that the permit could be revoked unless an amended permit is approved by the Plan Commission.

But if you ask the four guys who became regulars at the Hospitality Center — Milos Milosavljevic, Bob Rhodes, Dennis Raymond and Mike Ludwigson — they received more than a meal at the homeless shelter. They made close friends who wanted to see them succeed and that resulted in them finding housing.

Milosavljevic, Rhodes, and Raymond moved into a duplex together on Indiana Street three weeks ago. Milosavljevic had been homeless for a year. Raymond was homeless for two years. Rhodes was homeless for 3 1/2 years. And Ludwigson was homeless off and on for 22 years, since he was 18 years old. Sometimes Ludwigson would stay with other guys or he had a room at a boarding house, but he mostly slept in a tent outside and survived, said Joannie Williams, a volunteer at the Hospitality Center.

“His father left when he was 7,” she said. “His mother ran off with someone when he was 14. He was in special education classes, but failed 9th grade twice (certainly family life was in turmoil at that time) and then dropped out of school. So never graduated from high school.”

A few days after the three men found a place, Ludwigson landed an apartment on Main Street.

Hospitality in Action

All four men credit “their angels” from the Hospitality Center — Stewart, and Hospitality Center volunteers Leif and Candy Peterson, and Williams — for their help. There has also been an outpouring of help from the community from the Legal Aid Society to people donating food and money.

But Milosavljevic calls Stewart, Williams and the Peterson’s his four angels because Stewart provided the four men spiritual guidance that allowed them to be open to new possibilities in their lives to lay the groundwork for change.

“The word homeless is degrading because no one truly has home,” Milosavljevic said. “There is only one true home and that is when you go to be with God. We were temporarily displaced and now I got my dignity back.”

But accepting help from others wasn’t always an easy task.

Ludwigson has colostomy bag, but he needed supplies. Ludwigson met Williams, who is a parish nurse at her husband’s church Atonement Lutheran Church, helped him get those supplies. But there were all sorts of issues in getting them: from not having a physician to write him a prescription, to not having a state of Wisconsin identification card, transportation to the DMV, obtaining his birth certificate, and even just going into the Durable Medical Equipment to get the supplies.

“Mike already had Badger Care health insurance but no physician, so no one to write a prescription for colostomy supplies,” Williams said. “My nurse practitioner friend who has prescriptive authority helped me access supplies, but the Durable Medical Equipment (DME) company would not dispense supplies without Mike coming in personally with a picture ID due to fears of Medicaid fraud….He couldn’t get a birth certificate so we obtained a copy of his lost ID and brought it to the DMV dept to get a new one.”

Homeless No More

The four were able to get temporary housing for a few months after the Hospitality Center closed its emergency shelter for good in March. During that time, Milosavljevic worked odd jobs to help out the group and the vowed to stay together to help one another.

“We get a long so good… we have our tiffs, but we make up… but we can sit and talk to each other, then we sit down and work it out,” Rhodes. “I kiss his forehead, he blushes and we get over it.”

The Legal Aid Society, through a program called Rapid Rehousing, was able to work with the utilities to settle old debts that prevented them for qualifying to get into an apartment. And in return, Milosavljevic, Rhodes, and Raymond became a family and now live together because Rhodes has the beginning of Alzheimer’s Disease and Raymond is working through some health issues but is working with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to gain employable skills.

The Petersons helped get Milosavljevic a job and let him borrow their car. And Williams offered them logistical support to overcome the barriers they had in front of them from transportation to navigating the healthcare system. After taking Raymond to the doctor, they learned that he has diabetes and has probably had it for some time.

“His numbers were through the roof and we’re trying to get them down,” Williams said.

But Raymond said he feels better already and he has a lot more energy.

“I was sleeping all of the time,” he said. “My moods were all over the place and now I feel so much better. It’s like night and day. We’re going to keep working on getting those numbers down, but I’m also looking forward to working on my employment skills so that I can get a job.”

Candy got Milosavljevic a job working at an assisted living facility in Kenosha. Leif and Candy let Milosavljevic borrow their car.

“When I got the job I was ecstatic,” Milosavljevic said. “I jumped for joy.”

A Family That Sticks Together

The relationship between Milosavljevic, Rhodes, and Raymond goes well beyond friendship, Williams said.

“They are a family,” she said. “Milos works all day cooking for a living, but he’ll often ask Bob and Dennis if they want a meal before he goes to work and he’ll make a pot of sloppy joes or something.”

So what’s it been like to have a place to call home?

“We’re in heaven,” Milosavljevic said as he rested in a recliner.

“I just saw him (Mike) this weekend and he is doing so well 6 weeks sober…and loving his little apartment,” Candy said.

What Now?

While Stewart believes the men are in a better place, he’s still concerned that they need income to solve some of their long-term issues, either from a job or through entitlement programs. Because Rhodes has the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease, he qualifies for disability but hasn’t gotten it yet.

“I tried to work out at Festival Foods… but it just wasn’t happening,” Rhodes said. “The manager and I agreed it was just over my head because I couldn’t remember which aisle I was in.”

Still, Stewart believes these men are most certainly in a better place than when he met them, but there’s a lot to managing a household and making a life. Stewart wonders how Raymond and Rhodes will continue to get to doctors’ appointments without transportation, how they’ll get food, and stay motivated.

“How do we stop others from going backwards and isolating,” Stewart said. “I think that’s going to take income… but they found a network that will care for them and I think it’ll continue.

“No one is self-sufficient and self-reliant… Everyone needs help and that is different for everyone.”

Stewart also knows that getting an apartment is a huge milestone to overcome, but it doesn’t meant their problems are over.

“Just because someone gets into an apartment doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t need help,” Stewart said. “I want them to continue to feel good about themselves and that’s going to require continued help. And we will continue to help them as much as we are able… we journey together.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.