News

Housing is a blessing, especially for the sick

Randy had it rough. Battling depression, he began drinking at a young age and it eventually controlled his life.

He was 51 when he was placed in housing with the help of St. John Center and case manager Sarah Buckler. It was his first home in 20 years.

“Having my own place gives me a very, very peaceful feeling both spiritually and mentally. It gives me peace of mind because I can escape into my own world if I need to,” said Randy in an article published in the September 2011 issue of Daylight, the Center’s printed newsletter.

After getting his apartment, Randy never found himself homeless again. Tiny Herron became Randy’s case manager in April; just about the time he learned that he had a terminal disease. Unfortunately she found him unconscious on the floor of his apartment during a home visit.

Randy was rushed to the hospital where he died August 6 surrounded by family and friends. Tiny, SJC executive director Maria Price and Sarah Buckler (Randy’s first case manager at SJC) all visited him during his hospital stays.

“I was very glad Randy had a home when he died. He was my brother and I am happy he got the support he needed to get housing. It gave me peace that he had a place of his own,” said Rodney, Randy’s twin brother. “Thank God for you all. You provide a great service. Bless you for your help.”

According to Tiny and Rodney, Randy was very grateful for the St. John Center housing program. “He told me he thought St. John Center was a very friendly and helpful place with lots of resources. He said the staff worked with him to improve his life,” said Rodney.

“Housing allowed Randy to rekindle his relationship with his children. It helped him maintain sobriety,” added Tiny.

Randy didn’t like anyone to know he was homeless. “I was always embarrassed by being homeless. I hid it from my family. I kept my homelessness a secret from my brother and my daughters. The pain, shame and guilt of being homeless made me isolate myself,” admitted Randy, who after housing became much more involved in the lives of his children and grandchildren.

Randy sought to repay St. John Center by going outside his comfort zone to speak to others about his personal struggle with homelessness in the hope that his story might keep someone from ending up on the streets. He spoke to a large crowd during St. John Center’s 25th anniversary celebration.

“Talking about it helps me and it helps them,” said Randy. “I absolutely believe my story has touched some of the teenagers I’ve talked to.”

No doubt about it Randy. And your beautiful spirit lives on.

For Walter and his daughter, and hundreds more like them, St. John Center seeks to expand space and services

The combination of social services, housing counseling, supportive housing, and services of partner agencies under the roof of a day shelter is a winning combination.  One indicator of success is this — 219 SJC guests moved from homelessness to housing in the fiscal year that just ended.

These 219 men, some on the streets for decades, are now in a stable situation in which they can move forward.  Every story deserves telling, but here’s just one:

Walter worked as a dish washer at a popular restaurant for years.  He typically slept in an alley or empty parking garage because his shift ended in the middle of the night.  He’d come to St. John Center each morning to shower and work on his housing applications.  He always stayed current with his child support payments.  When he visited his daughter, she’d ask, “When do I get to stay with you, Daddy?”

“Soon, sweetie.  You can stay with me someday soon.”

With the help of SJC’s housing counselor, Walter moved into housing this year, representing one of the 219.  But to his daughter, he is the only one.

He stopped by recently to proudly introduce his daughter to staff and report that she stays with him a few nights each week.

St. John Center wants to do more of that kind of work.  Simply put, though, there is no more room.

To address this lack of space, the board unanimously voted to renovate the building to modify existing space and expand square footage in order to increase services.  The renovation project will cost an estimated $775,000.  Those same board members have already committed the first $40,000 to the campaign.

The plan will expand the building to the south and make room for a net increase of six offices, as well as meeting rooms and work spaces for staff and clients.  It is important to note that none of the three options compromise the statuary or windows that help make St. John Center a true sanctuary for 188 homeless men a day.

If you would like to see the plans for the expansion please call 568-6758, and ask for Maria at ext. 21, Keith at ext. 31, or Ron at ext. 29.  Any financial support of the expansion will be yet another way to enable even more homeless men to tackle the barriers that stand between them and housing.

Sisters show kindness to their brothers

St. John Center is fortunate to get a lot of support from nuns representing several religious orders. These dedicated and compassionate ladies tackle a variety of tasks to help the many clients who visit the shelter every day.

Why do you choose to spend time at St. John Center?

Sister Jeanne Niehaus has been the social services coordinator at SJC since March 2000.

A Sister of St. Benedict, Jeanne meets face-to-face with just about every man that enters the Center. She listens to their stories, tells them what help is available at SJC, and directs them to additional resources provided by other agencies. Jeanne also makes hundreds of temporary IDs for the men.

“St. John Center is a place where a guy can go from having nothing to take advantage of resources that can help him get an apartment, find a job, improve stability, receive guidance and set goals,” said Sister Jeanne.

 

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Grace Simpson, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, has been volunteering at the sign-in desk for 18 months. Retired from the Sister Visitor Center, she was “looking for a place where I could work directly with the marginalized and needy. My philosophy comes from Proverbs 14:31 which says, ‘kindness shown to the poor is an act of worship.’”
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Brendan Conlon
, an Ursuline Sister of Louisville, followed fellow sister, Elise Hovekamp, who did mending for the men of St. John Center. “I think being homeless, especially when no one cares, must be terrible. At St. John Center (and other local agencies) people really care. I think St. John Center is wonderful.”
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Eva Kowalski
– A Sister of Charity of Nazareth, volunteers at sign-in and the shower room to honor fellow SCN Sister Mary Kathleen Sheehan, founding director of St. John Center.
“St. John Center is a place where the wounded Christs seek recognition, comfort and services. As a volunteer I consciously attempt to treat each of the homeless men with dignity and respect. I also try to give positive feedback, and when warranted, anything to enhance their self-esteem.”
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Nancy Reynolds
– a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, visits St. John Center regularly (along with her friend Lynn Jarrell, OSU) to bring food and much-needed supplies for the men. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, which is operated by the order, just happens to be Maria Price’s alma mater. “The gentlemen of SJC are God’s people and as such deserve love, mercy and justice. I see myself as a loving and merciful person and I freely spread that to the men who come to St. John Center.”

 

What do you get in return for your service at St. John Center?

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Grace Simpson – “There are a lot of dedicated staff and volunteers who serve the homeless men, treating them with respect and dignity. It is my privilege to help and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the work here.”
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Brendan Conlon – “I get a lot of friendly smiles and sometimes a ‘Thank you.’ I get the joy of having someone come in and say, ‘I got a job’ or ‘I got an apartment.’ I get the satisfaction of knowing that I’m a small part of a big effort to make people’s lives better.”
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Eva Kowalski – “The challenge, the humor, the hopelessness, the sharing and the absolute gift of each of the wounded Christs keeps me coming back to SJC. I get a deep sense of satisfaction being of service to the homeless men in Louisville, and I’m grateful to be sharing the charism of the SCNs.”
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Nancy Reynolds – “My spirit is filled every time I have been to St. John Center. I have seen a place of warmth and caring for all the men who spend time there. There is such a good spirit among them and that rubs off on me.”

‘Tiny’ making huge impact at St. John Center

Christen “Tiny” Herron became aware of homelessness very early in her life.  Her father was a minister whose services in downtown Louisville were often attended by homeless individuals.
“My parents taught me to love and respect the homeless, prostitutes and drug addicts.  Some of my earliest memories are of my parents bringing them home for dinner,” she explained.
Tiny became the newest member of the SJC staff on April 4.  She is a housing case manager for 17 of the Center’s housing clients.  “I like to think I’m helping them do life,” said Tiny.  “I teach them life skills and assist with filling out paperwork.”  Her duties include scheduled home visits with clients to make sure they are functioning in their communities and to ensure that they stay housed.
She says the transition to St. John Center has been wonderful.  “If I had to write a job description for myself this would be it.  I love it here,” said Tiny.  “The staff is extremely supportive of each other.  It just feels right here.  I look forward to coming to St. John Center every day.”
Maria Price, SJC executive director, is obviously pleased Tiny is here.  “Tiny is such a gift to St. John Center.  She brings a wealth of experience from her work over the last 10 years with people experiencing homelessness, especially those living on the streets,” said Maria.  “But she also brings a fresh perspective to the agency.  Adding another staff member to the team who feels passionately about her work is good for everyone.”
Tiny is a big believer in St. John Center’s focus on housing.  “The Housing First concept really makes sense.  When someone is dealing with medical or mental issues it is so important to have a stable place to start.”
Tiny is the founder of an organization calledForgotten Louisville that has been doing outreach to the homeless for 10 years.  The group visits the homeless, feeds them, and provides whatever other comforts it can.  “I’ve been all over Louisville feeding the homeless.  I started serving food out of the trunk of my car anyplace I found people in need,” she said.
Some of the men Forgotten Louisville serves Tiny now sees among St. John Center guests and her own housing clients.  “It is neat to see some of the same population I used to see living under a bridge or in a tent becoming productive members of society,” she said.
When it comes to serving the homeless, Tiny does not give up easily.  ”There are lots of resources for the homeless in Louisville, but nobody is going to get up out of the gutter without someone extending a hand to help pull them out,” she said.  “People say you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  But I always wonder what happens if it decides to drink the 19th time they are lead to the water?”
Tiny spent 19 years as a clinical assistant in obstetrics/gynecology at University Hospital.  Unfortunately, her medical know-how is coming in handy since she is helping care for her boyfriend who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident last month.  He is recovering at home but faces months of rehabilitation.
Tiny is the mother of three children, ages 23, 16 and 14.

Wait for housing is often frustrating, but well worth it

key in lock editAfter four years of homelessness, Charles moved into his own apartment on June 2.
It was a day he won’t soon forget.  “This is a revolutionary day for me,” Charles said.  “My homelessness is over.  It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears getting here.”
Prior to being housed Charles spent many nights on the porch of a building adjacent to Phoenix Health Center.  “That’s not right, it’s dehumanizing,” he said.  “This is the greatest country in the world.  Just get me off the streets and I’ll take it from there.  I don’t need a hand out, just a hand up.  There are a lot of good men out here that are just stuck.”
The process of becoming eligible for supported housing can be long and frustrating.  It often begins with an eligibility assessment after which the individual receives a score which can determine how quickly he’s placed in housing.
Charles completed the assessment and was told he qualified to receive housing.  But his patience was tested as he witnessed other people he knew get housing.
“I was about to leave town,” said Charles.  “Several friends of mine got housing and yet I was still homeless.  It left a bad taste in my mouth for Louisville, and even St. John Center.  I was so frustrated.”
“Charles struggled, like so many others, with feeling frustrated at the bureaucracy surrounding housing assistance and the delay he had to endure before receiving help,” explained Tom Parmenter, the St. John Center housing case manager assigned to Charles.  “Dealing with despair about not receiving help in a timely manner is a very common experience for those people battling homelessness.  I think a good part of our work here is helping combat that sense of despair.”
With Tom in his corner, Charles was soon feeling better about St. John Center.  “You all do good work here,” he said.  “You all think you’re just coming to work, but you really save lives.”
Having a place of his own has eased Charles’ mind.  “I get uninterrupted rest, have peace of mind, and feel safe now,” he said.  “When you sleep outside people can walk up on you in the middle of the night and you never know what is in their mind.”
According to Tom, Charles has long had a good work ethic and a variety of skills that should bode well for his future.  “I have known him to work at several different jobs, but he was having trouble holding onto them due to difficulties with showing up punctually due to challenges he was facing staying on the street,” said Tom.  “With his many job skills Charles should be able to find work that he will be able to hold onto now that he has a consistent living arrangement.”
Charles’ next victory would be to put his forklift and cherry picker skills to work in a warehouse.
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