Sheena Barnes worked full-time at a Toledo homeless shelter but never imagined she would one day need one herself.
After being laid off from her job in June of 2014, the mother of three struggled to make ends meet and, just a few months later, she knew it was time to move on to the next part of her journey. In October, she moved into Family House, a nonprofit organization offering housing and social services with a “hand up” philosophy.
Having worked in a homeless shelter herself, Barnes braced herself for a three month stay in her family’s new temporary home. But thanks to grant funded by the ProMedica Advocacy Fund, Sheena says she wasn’t there as long as expected.
“The people at Family House were very supportive and caring,” said Barnes. “They saw the situation and helped me get housing.”
Barnes applied for low-income housing and a month later everything was ready for Sheena and her family to move into their own home. The only problem? A $2,000 outstanding gas bill that was still in her name.
“I called friends and family, I talked to the woman at the gas company. I prayed. I breathed,” described Barnes. She couldn’t pay the outstanding bill, but soon learned there was a grant-funded program that could help.
Local Shelters Working Together
In May 2014, Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo was awarded money from the ProMedica Advocacy Fund by the Toledo Community Foundation for a joint effort with La Posada, Aurora House and Bethany House. The grant was in support of eliminating barriers to permanent housing for homeless families, which includes outstanding bills.
Because of that grant, in less than one week after the option of low income house became a reality, Barnes was able to use the grant funds to pay her outstanding bills and move into her own home.
Rodney Schuster, executive director of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo, says the collaborative project between local homeless shelters is about letting go of competition and putting their service to those in need first.
“When people are at an emergency shelter, they are in emergency mode. They need food, clothing, shelter, education, nutrition, and self-esteem,” explained Schuster. “Our goal is to get them into stable and safe housing as quickly as possible. The ProMedica Advocacy Fund has helped eliminate some of the barriers, which is why it was so valuable for all of our shelters to pull together. Some of us serve different populations, but we are all serving those in need.
Shared Resources, Lowered Costs, Better Outcomes
The grant-funded project isn’t the only example of collaboration between the local homeless shelters. When Toledo was faced with a water crisis in August 2014, the shelters reached out to each other to help fill any needs. “We were all on the phone with each other asking, ‘What do you need?’ and sharing resources. That’s what serving is all about,” said Schuster.
For Schuster, collaborative efforts mean a community of trust, a leveraging of resources, reduced costs, increased training and opportunities, and, most importantly, better outcomes for the people they serve.
At La Posada, an emergency shelter affiliated with Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo, the average length of stay has been shortened to 43 days since the funding began. Previously, it was 54 days. “Those 11 days are huge from a family stability and cost perspective,” explained Schuster.
For Barnes and her family, the shortened stay at the emergency shelter had a huge impact. When she received news that the funding would help pay off her outstanding gas bill, she was overcome with gratitude. “I wouldn’t have had my own place to celebrate Christmas with my kids,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without that grant.”
Now, Barnes has seasonal employment, is saving up and building up her resume. With the lowered rent of low-income housing and an associate’s degree under her belt, she’s looking to continue her education for a bachelor’s in social services.
The ProMedica Advocacy Fund is accepting applications through January 23, 2015. Click here to learn more.
(Feature image of La Posada courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo.)