Sojourner HouseService Learning Project Tina Tryggestad
What I wanted to learn Starting my service learning, I intended to learn a variety of different issues facing the homeless population. What are some factors that led to their homelessness? Does this population have their own unique community, and if so, what does it look like? What resources in the community do they utilize? What are additional unmet needs? How does the Sojourner House connect the residents with outside resources? What have been the trends and what can we expect in the future? I would also like to compare common stereotypes of this population as well as the prevalence of drug or alcohol abuse, if any.
The Sojourner House Opened its doors to the public on November 1, 2011. Available daily to the public from 7:00 P.M to 7:00 A.M. Staff are employed by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse, a non-profit charity. Offers evening meal, breakfast, shower, laundry and a sleeping area for the adult homeless population.
Guests are allowed to begin lining up outside the front entrance door at 6:00 P.M. Usually one paid staff member as well as volunteers who are scheduled, will arrive at 6:30P.M to begin preparing for the evening. The evening’s meal is started so a warm meal is waiting when the guests enter at 7:00 P.M. When the doors are open, they are allowed to enter in increments of 10.
Breathalyzer Once inside, the guests stand in a line. They are given a small piece of paper which will have their name, date and if they would like to take a shower and do laundry. They will each take a breathalyzer test by either a staff member or a volunteer. A guest who does register with a blood alcohol level of 0.18 may stay if they are respectful and not disruptive to other guests. Once they have passed the breathalyzer, they are allowed to proceed to the intake processes.
The homeless are often stereotyped as suffering from alcoholism or substance abuse. On an average evening, 1/40 of the guests the shelter sees will register on the breathalyzer.
Intake Guests proceed to the intake table. Here they can sign up for morning wake-up, laundry and a shower. A staff member or volunteer will be responsible for maintaining the record of each guest that checks in. This is used to track who stayed on a certain evening. Most stay overnight but do have the option to check-in to eat only. They are still allowed to shower and do laundry. They will leave the facility prior to the doors closing at 9:00 P.M.
Guest rules and policies In order to maintain a healthy environment, a set of guidelines are used. Each new visitor is read the House rules. These are also reviewed monthly with each guest. The environment supports the visitors right to food, safety, shelter in addition to their right to respectful interactions with other visitors, staff and volunteers.
Bin Room After the intake process, the bin room is next. Here each person is assigned his/her bin. Each bin has a number which corresponds to what bed they will have. Bins contain bedding. Bins also are used as a place to store personal belongings. This room is always staffed. Belongings need to be claimed before leaving in the morning. Bedding is washed after each use.
Men’s sleeping room The Sojourner House has beds to accommodate up to 30 male guests. Each bed is a bunk bed, allowing a guest to have either an upper level bed or a lower. Some guests prefer the top while others can only physically access a bottom bunk.
Women’s sleeping room The female sleeping room can accommodate up to 8 women. Similar to the men’s room, the women also have bunk beds. Often if a person needs a lower bunk and none are available another guest will switch to accommodate the need.
The sitting room This room is where any visitor will stay if they registered on the breathalyzer as 0.18 or less. The guest is usually directed here while a staff member will complete the check-in process for them. Also, they are offered a plate of warm food. This area provides a safe area for the intoxicated guest, other guests plus volunteers and staff. On the evenings when not enough beds are available for those wanting to stay, this room may be offered.
Kitchen Guests help themselves to food once they are settled in for the night. The volunteer working in the kitchen will keep all food filled and help with any special requests such as ice. The kitchen has three large refrigerators as well as a freezer in the basement. Each person is allowed as many servings as they would like. No one goes to bed hungry.
Main Recreation Area This is where guests, staff and volunteers spend the most time. Here everyone can eat, socialize, play games and relax . The recreation area is equipped with a television, four computers with internet access, books and games. Card games are popular among the guests.
Laundry The Sojourner House has two washers and two dryersand provides laundry detergent. Visitors are allowed to sign up to do laundry once a week. The sign up sheet is on a first come, first serve basis at the intake table. Guests are often told that they have to wait till another night to do laundry.
Supply cart A supply cart is located outside of the sleeping rooms. Visitors can borrow hospital scrubs for sleeping, socks, towels and rags. In the staff office visitors may access supplies. These supplies are hygienic tools such as body soap, deodorant, shampoo and razors.
Resources A bulletin board is located in the hallway near the guest restrooms. This board posts a variety of helpful resources such as employment ads and community programs.
The brochures and literature are relative to the needs of the visitors. The Sojourner House is a way to connect those in need with community resources. These resources include the local city bus schedule ,government programs, crisis intervention, mental health and addiction treatment programs.
Nearby resources • The Beacon House offers access to amenities such as restrooms, television and activities. • The Community Table serves meals during the day. • The Kings Closet is a new program which provides free clothing. • For the majority who do not have their own vehicle or a bicycle, they are dependent on the city bus system, rides with friends and family or walking. • The Eau Claire Job Center is conveniently located downtown. • Since volunteering, I have recognized many walking around the local library, shopping centers and downtown.
Common reasons for staying at the Sojourner House Experiencing unemployment Disconnection of electricity in their homes Eviction or foreclosure Mental health, illness or injury which makes it difficult to maintain employment. This includes veterans who served in the military Divorce or an unexpected disaster Transition from a rehabilitation program or relocating from another area
Some have regular income from employment, often this is minimum wage. Some of the guests work multiple jobs. • The Sojourner House serves as an address for the visitors to receive mail. • Some are able to qualify for benefits such as food share or social security and disability. These serve as additional assistance to help in the process of getting back on their own. • Staying at the Sojourner House allows these individuals to save for a vehicle or other needs.
The thing that stood out the most to me was the unique community that the homeless population have. • Often, they will help each other with tasks such as making their beds or obtaining resources. If a guest has a medical disability, another guest will usually get food for them. • They talk, share stories, support each other emotionally and accept each other.
The trend in demand • The first month that the Sojourner House was open, it served 611 guests. • Most months reflect an increase in the number of guests served. • The numbers of those served is over 1,000 a month and growing. • The average guest is in their 40’s but do range between 18 years of age to the elderly. • When not at shelter, the few who have vehicles will use them to sleep. Others will sleep at a friend or family members home. Many will sleep in the park.
To meet the increasing needs as well as an effort to allow the guests the opportunity to secure housing, the guests follow the 90 day rule. This rule says that a guest can stay up to 90 days, after this time they can only stay if there is a bed available when the doors close at 9:00p.m. • The average number of guests who sign in at the intake desk as over 90 days are usually less than 5. • The Sojourner House has organized community events in an effort to bring awareness to the community. • The Sojourner House works to secure the increasing need of funding. Many businesses in the community have made generous donations such as the laundry machines and mattresses.
Volunteers Anyone in the community who wants to contribute may volunteer. Additional volunteers are staffed by organizations or groups such as churches. • The volunteer shifts are: • Am: 5:30-8:30am • Pm: 6:30-9:30pm • Overnight: 9:30pm-1:30am & 1:30am-5:30am • Always a need for volunteers especially for the morning and overnight shifts.
There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help. Jan Schakowsky