Despite a community-wide discussion about homelessness in Racine held last week, the 28 homeless men and women calling the Hospitality Center home won’t be able to sleep there anymore.
The overnight emergency program ended Tuesday night for good while it maintains its day services. But many guests at the Hospitality Center weren’t clear on where they were going to spend Wednesday night, whether it was at the Homeless Assistance Leadership (HALO) program, a motel, or the streets.
By Wednesday morning, Rev. Kevin Stewart, director of the Hospitality Center, said he knew that eight guests had taken duffel bags filled with a tent, hats, gloves, and personal hygiene items, which led him to believe they would be sleeping outside.
Kevin Cookman, executive director of HALO, the city’s largest homeless shelter, told WGTD radio that eight people were in HALO and three would be allowed to stay at HALO on an emergency basis because of earlier addiction problems. Others have medical issues and are in the hospital, some are in jail, six or seven haven’t given their real names and two found apartments.
“All you’re doing is giving people a bed and a meal and changing nothing in their lives,” Cookman told WGTD News in an interview.
But Milo, a guest at the Hospitality Center, said more people need help and HALO has had access issues.
“We’re talking about 25 to 75 people, and no one is paying attention to them now,” said Milo, a guest at the Hospitality Center. “But then you’ll have those people living on the streets, underneath bridges, in the woods and between the crypts in the cemetery. They’ll sleep underneath the railroad tracks and it’s not going to be pretty.
“There are guys who will go down to the beach. They sleep at the beach. They do their bodily functions at the beach. They have no showers. There’s garbage in the trees.”
Milo got hope from the Hospitality Center when it felt like the system had failed him and now it’s gone. But his focus isn’t on him, he said.
“There’s people here who need medical help, and people who need food but can’t because they can’t get a food card since they don’t have an address,” Milo said.
Nick, who has been in and out of jail and been homeless since October, was told he could only come back to HALO on an emergency basis, which means he won’t be able to stay at the shelter long-term.
“I just found this awesome place that was willing to help me and now it’s closing,” he said. “And we’re stuck in this situation. I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. I mean I can fight for a long time, but I can only fight for so long. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”
A man named Will, who was staying at HALO in January, said he was working at Amazon at the time when his mother had a brain aneurysm and had missed work.
“Someone from HALO actually drove me out to Kenosha to pick up the note… I got the letter and it still wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I actually got the letter that said there was no problems with me, I was just unable to work that day…the foreman was OK with my leave.”
Despite getting the letter, a staff member at HALO named Floyd told Will he needed to leave.
Scott Metzel, executive director for the Hopes Center, explained that to qualify for a motel voucher, a person would have to be rejected by HALO because the vouchers are paid for through an emergency shelter grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.
“The voucher is the last resort for the people ineligible to stay at a shelter,” Metzel said. “Certain criminal offenses might make you ineligible to stay…or medical conditions.”
Three of the guests were referred to the Hopes Center, which offers counseling for people who are homeless and have mental illnesses.
For those who qualified for vouchers, they would likely be able to use them for a limited amount of time.
Gai Lorenzen, managing attorney for the Legal Action of Wisconsin, said there are a limited number of vouchers and they are not meant to be a long-term solution.
“It’s clear to me, after talking with a number of people at the Hospitality Center that we need more mental health and AODA services in the community,” she said. “Not all people who come to the Hospitality Center have mental illnesses and AODA issues, but many do.”
Fard Mohammed, who said he was once homeless, now helps as a volunteer.
“You got people coming here that are mentally ill, former drug addicts, and alcoholics… the Hospitality Center opens their doors and they treat people like people,” he said. “What happens to the person who loses patience with a person that has a mental illness? And they lose patience and they put them out in the cold.
Stewart appreciates the help the community and the volunteers have given to those at the Hospitality Center. But he wonders how long many of the people staying at the Hospitality Center who are now scattered will eventually be back on the streets.
“We recognize the work done by everyone and we appreciate it, but at the end of the day… fundamentally nothing has changed,” he said.