MOUNT VERNON — Emergency shelter, especially for homeless families, is often cited by local charities as the primary need that is lacking for the homeless in Knox County.
Various local agencies offer programs that may be of use to people who have become homeless or are in danger of becoming homeless. Hot meals and food pantries can help keep people fed, others can provide assistance in finding employment, fighting addiction and treating mental health issues.
A few offer emergency shelter or help in finding shelter.
Interchurch, a cooperative effort of area churches, does not specifically target the homeless, but they probably aid 100 to 120 cases per year, said Executive Director Joy Harris.
“They can access our programs for food and clothing monthly, and our emergency help for rent and utilities twice per year,” she said. “Homelessness is not something that happens only in the winter. It’s an issue all year.
“Our biggest need is for a family shelter. Kno-Ho-Co has two apartments in Fredericktown, but they’re full year-round. We’ll work with Winter Sanctuary (as well as cooperating churches) and will put up a family for a night or two at a motel, but then we try to get them to a county with a family shelter.”
Interchurch is entirely locally funded, with support from Food For the Hungry, United Way, area churches and individual donors. It receives no state or federal funds.
“There’s never enough money to meet all the needs,” Harris said. “We serve more than 600 people per month, about 425 to 250 of them in Mount Vernon. The number used to be higher after the 2008 recession.”
The Salvation Army has a long tradition of helping people down on their luck and its programs “strive to meet the needs of all who come seeking help.”
Specific programs include a food pantry, energy assistance, Christmas assistance and rent assistance.
Hot meals are available each evening at several churches around Mount Vernon. They are not specifically targeted at homeless individuals, said Rev. Scott Elliott, with First Congregational United Church of Christ, but the homeless can certainly take advantage of them.
Meals are served from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each evening at a different church, except Sundays, which are 5-6 p.m.
Meals are served at First Presbyterian Church on Monday, First Congregational on Tuesdays, First Church of the Nazarene on Wednesdays, The Salvation Army on Thursdays, Gay Street United Methodist Church on Fridays, Seventh-day Adventist School on Saturdays and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Sundays.
“There is no central organizing authority for this,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t target homeless, but you can get a hot meal with no questions asked.”
There are no reporting requirements and the numbers vary quite a bit, he said, but he estimated that attendance is often between 80 and 120 people.
“This town is awesome, I’ve never seen a community so willing to help fellow citizens,” Elliott said.
The KnoxWorks program at TouchPointe works to give clients the skills to find jobs, and learn to keep their job skills focused and organized.
“Although we do not have any funds to help the homeless with housing or transportation, we do help them with other things such as organizational skills and relationship skills,” TouchPointe Executive Director Jessica Reynolds said. “We also help find them the resources they need if they need transportation or housing.”
Reynolds said they have a KnoxWorks class scheduled for Jan. 14 – 18 and all who are willing are welcome to attend.
“In the past year, we have helped at least 4 homeless that were willing to complete the class,” she said.
KnoxWorks works with anyone and everyone who is capable and willing, Reynolds said.
“We also work with a core group of employers in Knox County who regularly hire entry-level workers, who provides a pool of opportunities for KnoxWorks candidates who are matched to job openings by their capabilities and backgrounds,” Reynolds said. “Involvement doesn’t end once a person finishes the class and starts a job, there are follow-ups so that the new employee will stabilize.”
It is a 35-hour class and you have to attend all seven sessions, which sometimes is difficult for the homeless to do, she said.
She also works with individuals, including three who are now homeless, on getting organized and filing job applications.
“We’re supported by donations and we have a lot of church partners,” Reynolds said. “We also work closely with the Winter Sanctuary, Riverside Recovery House and the Main Place.”
From what she has seen, she said the biggest current lack is in emergency housing for homeless families, especially this time of year when many agencies that may normally provide help, such as the Salvation Army, are running out of funds.
She said emergency help to keep people in a home is also lacking or suffers from slow turnaround time.
She cited an instance where a man couldn’t work because he was hospitalized and the family couldn’t keep up with the rent, so they were evicted.
The Main Place
Helping people recover from mental health issues is the main purpose of the Main Place at 117 W. High Street, Mount Vernon. People with mental health issues often also wind up homeless and jobless, too, so the Main Place has resources to help people in those areas.
About one third of their clients are homeless, said co-director Rhonda Gibson. It currently has 310 “unduplicated” clients, with about 102 homeless.
One thing they try to do is link eligible clients with lists of other agencies. For example, if a client is a veteran, he or she may be eligible for extra housing assistance from another agency.
Although they deal mostly with individuals, Reynolds agreed with other agencies that there is a shortage of emergency housing for families, but she also added that there is a shortage of affordable housing in the county.
Their funding, she said, comes mainly from the Licking/Knox Mental Health and Recovery Board. It also bills Medicaid and Medicare, receives grants and some other funding.
Addiction is a factor in some cases. In those cases they work with The Freedom Center and other agencies who deal with the addiction issues, while the Main Place tackles the mental health treatment.
“We have to treat the whole person,” Gibson said.
“One of the strengths of the community,” she added, “is that the various agencies work well together.”
A great many people have had mental health issues of some kind and they can recover. They see that with their peer counselors, Gibson said, when they see that someone has been through what they are going through and recovery is possible.
“It’s not a life sentence,” Gibson said, adding that there are many employers who are willing to give even convicted felons a second chance and people can rebuild their lives.
“There is hope and life can be different,” she said.
The Winter Sanctuary is an emergency shelter for the homeless, providing clean, warm beds through the winter. It also helps them contact agencies which can provide the resources such as transportation, jobs, housing and mental health and addiction services to help them get out of their current situation.
A more complete look at the Winter Sanctuary is featured elsewhere in this series.
Food For the Hungry
The Food for the Hungry campaign each Christmas season is the major food and money collection effort in the community. It does not target the homeless specifically, explained President Samantha Scoles, but it supports many programs which do provide food and other aid for the homeless through grants.
Interchurch and the Salvation Army are the major recipients of the annual drive, but during the drive’s climax, a number of other grants were awarded, including to Covenant Food Pantry, ACTS Food Pantry, Central Christian Church Food Pantry, Winter Sanctuary, Jacque Cordle Children’s Fund Food Pantry, Feed the Vern, Freedom Center, The Church on the Rise Food Pantry, Centerburg Church of God Food Pantry, TouchPointe Life Center, Peace Meals at Fredericktown United Methodist Church and the Gay Street United Methodist Church Hot Meals Program.