A roof over your head doesn’t seem like too much to ask for, but it is not always guaranteed. Whether it’s homelessness or a volatile family situation, people may find themselves suddenly looking for safe haven, and these area organizations provide that emergency shelter from life’s storms.
The number that Jenn Lyke places hope in is 84. Eighty-four percent of people who move from an emergency shelter into transitional housing will never become homeless again, says Lyke, development director for Gateway 180, which provides both shelter and services for the homeless. “Our focus is on ending homelessness. We want to get families out of the shelter and into a home as soon as possible.”
With 115 beds in its 40,000-square-foot facility, the downtown agency serves those who are referred to them through St. Louis City Continuum of Care For Ending Homelessness, a group of 60 organizations offering a variety of services to those in need. Each family who enters the Gateway shelter is assigned a case manager who works with them to find more permanent housing. “There are certain requirements people have to fulfill, like looking for employment or participating in a treatment program, if needed, to show that they want to end homelessness for their family and move in a positive direction,” Lyke explains.
The average length of stay for a family at Gateway is 30 to 45 days before they are able to move into transitional housing, some of which is operated by the agency itself. Craft days and home-cooked meals by volunteers provide a welcome distraction for the children who make up 60 to 70 percent of those housed at the shelter, Lyke notes. “When people think of homelessness, they don’t think of kids, but the average age of a homeless person in the United States is between 7 to 10 years old.”
The prevalence of children without a home stresses the importance of Gateway’s mission, which has operated at or near capacity since opening in 1986. “We’d like to see all emergency shelters go away and people go directly into transitional housing,” Lyke says. “We want nothing more than to go out of business.”
St. Louis Crisis Nursery
The intake counselors who answer calls at St. Louis Crisis Nursery are often a lifeline for the parent at the other end of the phone. With guidance starting with that phone call, the nursery helps to work through emergencies that may have otherwise endangered children. “Our mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect, while also strengthening the family so they don’t fall back into that crisis,” says Denise Wiehardt, program coordinator for Crisis Nursery North.
Each of the five area locations offer 24 to 48 hours of emergency shelter for children from birth to age 12. Often, parental stress is the main reason children are brought to a nursery. “Sometimes they’re so overwhelmed, they can’t see a start or end to it. There’s so much on their plate,” Wiehardt says.
Beyond a required insurance card and any medication, the nursery provides children with clothing, diapers, food and anything else they may need. Sometimes what’s most needed is a distraction from the stresses of home. “It’s a safe place where kids can just play, have fun, and don’t have to worry about any adult stuff,” Wiehardt explains.
Staffers work with the parents to break down their situation and set goals for solving it, providing referrals to meet a variety of needs. After the children leave the facility, Crisis Nursery’s outreach centers provide continued support, including family empowerment counselors who do home visits to help keep the family stabilized. “We advocate for them,” Wiehardt says. “By the time they’re out of the program, they’ve built that selfconfidence back and they start advocating for themselves.”
American Red Cross
When the Good Friday tornado hit St. Louis on April 22, the American Red Cross was ready to respond. Volunteers and staff quickly opened an emergency shelter for those displaced by the ravages of the storm, and that haven remained open until the Red Cross was able to help families establish a plan to get back on their feet. “The shelter gets people out of harm’s way and helps them start the healing process,” says Mary Anderson, regional director of disaster services for the St. Louis chapter.
The Red Cross will open an emergency shelter any time there is a disaster that affects a large number of people. A database of 600 area facilities, ranging from churches to community centers, provides the organization with a variety of shelter options. With strategically placed Red Cross trailers filled with necessary supplies, a shelter can be up and running in a matter of hours.
Each person who comes to the emergency shelter meets with a caseworker to “figure out their needs and work through the steps,” Anderson explains. “We get them thinking about the future and provide resources to help with that.” The organization aims provide that relief as quickly as possible. “Shelters are never a perfect situation for anyone, so the minute we have to open one, we’re figuring out what we have to do to close it.”
While the Red Cross is prepared to help out with large-scale disasters, every small one gets its attention, as well. If a family’s home is destroyed by fire, they can be assured that they will find shelter with the Red Cross’ help. “We’ll respond while the fire department is still there,” Anderson says. “They put the fire out while we take care of the family.”