**Editor’s note: This letter to the editor was submitted by Pastor Holly Anderle in advance of Segue Racine‘s presentation at the Neighborhood Watch meeting at 10 a.m. this morning Saturday at Prospect Heights Community Living Center, 2015 Prospect Street.
Dear Racine Community,
We understand that many in the community have questions and concerns, so we’d like to address some of the most frequently asked questions.
- Despite the presence of HALO in our community, we still have people who are homeless and on the streets. HALO cannot and will not take everyone; many of their rules and requirements leave some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters out on the street with no place to call home due to residency requirements, the need for eviction notices, inability to come up completely clean on a breathalyzer (HALO requires a 0.0, or no trace of alcohol), etc. As a result, people are sleeping in,cars, unheated homes, garages, under stairwells, in tents, and wherever else they can find a some bit of shelter from extreme heat, cold, and storms.
- This past winter we were able to house some people in hotels using voucher money, but this money has been used and there will be NO hotel voucher money available for this winter. As people of God, we are grieved when we see this and hear their stories of fear and hopelessness.
- As a response to this growing need a small group of us (who had worked with homeless folks for a number of years) were asked by the Continuum of Care to form a group that could look into and find a way to bridge this gap. So we formed Segue, Inc., a nonprofit 501c3 group created for the purpose of providing and administering a warming/cooling shelter for those temporarily experiencing homelessness in Racine County, Wisconsin. A small, independent group of folks from diverse backgrounds, we see the homeless as precious children of God who deserve a place safety and acceptance.
- The Segue HOST (Homeless Overnight SancTuary) has clearly established Policies, Procedures, Intake Forms. These were drafted by three qualified people: Ron Thomas, who is the current President of the Racine Continuum of Care and former coordinator of the REST (Racine Emergency Shelter Taskforce);Scott Metzel, Executive Director of the HOPES Center, which conducts homeless street outreach and counseling; and Pat Liesch. Pat is a board member and Treasurer of Segue Racine, Inc; former assistant coordinator for the Hospitality Center; and a former coordinator for REST (she was also instrumental in helping Donna Bumpus set up and run the REST Program). These three folks have extensive experience working with this population and with running programs. Our other board members also come in with a background of working with those experiencing homelessness, through street outreach, ministry through Hot Meal programs and other mission work, work with homeless children through RUSD, etc. We will also be a part of the coordinated entry program.
SAFETY and GUEST BEHAVIOR CONCERNS:
- We understand the primary concern is for the personal safety and security of the surrounding neighborhood. We can address many of these concerns in the following ways:
- NO SEX OFFENDERS WILL BE ALLOWED AT THE HOST SHELTER. Part of the intake process is to screen guests through the Sex Offender Registry. Each guest will be vetted against the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry, using any ID they may provide. If they do NOT have ID, we will ask them to provide something to verify their ID. For the most part, many of the homeless know each other, and they are VERY good about identifying sex offenders and about letting us know if someone is trying to give us a fake name.
- Alcohol and other drugs are NOT allowed on the premises. This is strictly forbidden and breaking these rules will result in strong repercussions, including possible suspension. We intend to completely and fully control the behavior of our guests through supervision and will not hesitate to call the police in any instances of violent/illegal behavior. If we suspect the presence of drugs/alcohol, we will ask those involved to turn out their pockets and bags for inspection.
- Weapons will not be allowed on the premises. We will be purchasing a hand-held metal detector to help prevent weapons from being brought into the facility.
- HOST will use the East entrance to the building, so that there will be little opportunity for contact between United Way staff and visitors. We are exploring the possibility of a screened area near that entrance to allow the HOST guests to smoke outside with supervision, and where they can await the door opening without needing to have contact with many people.
- We could provide security cameras fairly easily and inexpensively to make sure that the HOST guests are not in the wrong places; we will explore doing this. This should also help discourage any other possible types of misbehavior.
- We will provide security during the morning and evening transition periods, to help ensure that there is minimal contact with folks in the neighborhood.
- We believe that a van or some form of transportation will be necessary because of the relative remoteness of the spot. This, too, should prevent people from drifting in and around the building, and minimize contact between our guests and our neighbors. We plan to have a van to transport guests back downtown where they can find the services they need.
- There is no real incentive for our guests to “hang out” in the nearby park, since the facilities they use (library, Hospitality Center, HOPES Center, etc.) are all downtown. We anticipate that we will have security present from 6 PM to 9 PM and from 7 AM to 8 AM to encourage anyone not taking the van to move along and not linger in the area.
- Because the park is a public place we legally cannot tell people that they cannot be there. However, we plan to STRONGLY encourage them to stay away from there, and let them know that if they are caught misbehaving there, they will incur a suspension from HOST. We will also let guests know that they are NOT allowed to loiter on the property (which is private) before and after hours, and that the HOST staff will be enforcing that.
- We will try to add additional volunteers when we are aware of places of overlap between United Way activities and HOST arrivals and departures. For example, on nights when there will be meetings in the building (e.g., Youth as Resources) we will have extra volunteers on hand during that time to keep an eye on the guests.
- We also plan to consult closely with the Racine Police Department as we move forward, and solicit their advice and guidance every step of the way.
- As you can see, our policies and procedures spell out specific consequences for different levels and types of inappropriate behavior. They are still in draft stage, but we have enough completed for you to see that we take misbehavior seriously and will take appropriate steps to prevent it. Although our experience of the homeless has not found them to be particularly dangerous, violent or inappropriate, should that happen, we will not hesitate calling the police to have them deal with offenders. Again, such behavior would have substantial and immediate consequences.
- NOTE: We have to remember that the homeless are citizens of our community, too, and as such have legal rights. As long as they do not have any outstanding warrants and are not sex offenders none of us have any legal authority to tell them that they cannot be present in the park while it is open. However, It is our experience that our folks do not tend to hang out in that park. The people engaging in drug and alcohol use in the park are not, as a general rule, the homeless. The folks we work with are just people, and for the most part are more likely to be victims of crime that perpetrators.
HOST STAFFING AND PROGRAMMING:
- We will staff with a combination of paid staff and volunteers. Our plan is to have a part-time shelter manager who will oversee the development, training and scheduling of volunteers and coordinate services for our guests, We will have at least one paid staff person in the building during all shelter hours. We will supplement that with trained volunteers. Staff and volunteers will have Crisis Intervention Training, coordinated through NAMI. This is the same training that the Racine police go through
- We are a part of the Continuum of Care, working very closely with the other COC member organizations to coordinate the care of our guests. We also intend to work closely with HALO, WRC, Safe Haven, HOPES Center, Bethany House, Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, and other agencies that provide and coordinate shelter for those experiencing homelessness.
- This shelter is not intended to simply be a “flophouse.” Our goal is not to simply provide just food and shelter. We will do case management, identifying the cause of homelessness and linking them up with the proper resources so that they can begin to address these issues. That might be meetings with AODA and mental health professionals, helping them obtain proper ID and documents that will allow them to get into HALO, WRC, and VOW, getting them legal help to resolve issues, or referrals to other agencies that deal with homeless and housing issues, like the HOPES Center. Homelessness is always temporary and our goal will be to move people to permanent housing.
- The County Executive has promised to help us by streamlining all our mental health and AODA referrals to receive fast treatment; emergency cases will receive priority.
- ALL of our staff will be trained; that will include paid staff and volunteers, just as they are at HALO. Volunteers will be fully trained, and often will be folks who serve in professional capacities with other homeless ministries/programs, such as active and retired pastors, social service workers, etc.
WHAT COMES NEXT:
- We are in the process of working with the Racine County Corporation Counsel to negotiate and draft our lease. The Racine County Board will be also be considering and voting on a one-time $40,000 grant to cover the rent on the second floor of 2000 Domanik Drive. This rent includes utilities.
- Funding is an issue. We do have some funding, and more has been promised from several sources, including a generous grant from SC Johnson. We are working on identifying and preparing applications for other grants, but we are awaiting our nonprofit fundraising permit before we can apply. We will seek public support, which we expect to be strong, and we are planning some public fundraisers. In addition we have begun to seek funding from area businesses and faith groups. Obviously, the better funded we are the better able we will be to serve our guests and the local community.
- We are continuing interviews to hire and train staff. We have already hired an experienced social service worker as a part-time shelter manager and he will begin enlisting and training volunteers so that we can have a basic team staffed and ready to go for our targeted opening on November 1, 2016.
Hopefully this has answered most of your concerns and questions. We would like to stress that in all of our years working with the homeless we have never felt threatened or fearful of them at all. The vast majority are folks just like all of us who, for a variety of reasons, have found themselves in this situation. It is our fervent hope and prayer that we can be the ones to help them get on the right path to a permanent home.
Pastor Holly Anderle