GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) — Wearing a shirt that reads "dream big," Michiana's biggest advocate for the homeless stood beside officials from Bashor's Children Home as they announced plans to open an emergency shelter for homeless youth by April 1.
John Shafer, CEO and founder of Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless Inc., has been campaigning through the community for a youth homeless shelter for the better part of a year — and now it is coming to fruition.
Bashor Children's Home announced in November that it was looking into opening an emergency shelter for youth, but those plans depended on the child welfare agency's ability to raise about $130,000 in startup costs and gain approval from its board of directors.
Don Phillips, Bashor's CEO and president, announced on Thursday that both of those things have happened, and he profusely thanked the generosity of several community donors.
He made the announcement inside the vacant building located near the intersection of C.R. 15 and C.R. 30 on Bashor Children's Home existing campus in Goshen. The Poyser Cottage, which is an estimated 2,500 square feet, will be staffed around the clock by trained professionals and will offer transitional housing to about four to six children at a time, Phillips said.
Phillips said the emergency shelter will be prepared to serve about 125 children per year, and the children will spend a few weeks in the emergency shelter before being placed in a more permanent, stable setting.
"In their brief experience here, they will have some feeling that their life does matter and they can improve it," he said. "They've likely gone through tough, traumatic experiences, so coming here will be a big turnaround for them."
Bashor previously ran an emergency shelter since the 1970s, but it was closed in 2012 because it was only serving about two teens at a time.
But Shafer, who has organized several community meetings to bring the issue of youth homelessness to light, said there are more than two children in Elkhart County who need shelter.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, schools reported 207 homeless teens in Elkhart County during the 2013-14 school year, a figure that's higher than surrounding counties. The number of children who need shelter on a nightly basis is a bit more difficult to calculate, as many of those children spend their nights with their families couch-surfing or doubling up on housing with friends or family.
According to slightly older data from the Indiana Youth Institute, based on the 2012-13 school year, only about 1.5 percent of Elkhart County's 157 homeless students reported being unsheltered at night. However, that number does not include runaway teens or children who are only staying in an unsafe home because they have no shelter elsewhere.
Shafer pointed to the emergency shelter in South Bend as an example of the need in Elkhart County. St. Joseph County had fewer homeless students than Elkhart County in the 2013-14 school year, yet its Youth Services Bureau emergency shelter serves 200 children annually.
Mike Deranek, Bashor's senior program director, said many children will be referred to the Elkhart County emergency shelter through traditional means, like when they are removed from their home because of abuse or neglect. For those children, Bashor will continue to work through agencies like local police departments and Child Protective Services.
But Bashor and its supporters, like Shafer, will also work to spread awareness of the shelter through the community to reach the runaways and homeless youth who police do not know about. Shafer said he hopes to establish a network of Safe Places locations throughout the county to welcome runaway or homeless youth and connect them with the appropriate resources, including emergency shelter at Bashor.
Phillips said the biggest challenge between now and April 1 will be finding the right people to fill the 10 to 12 staff positions at the shelter. Bashor is not so concerned with finding individuals with the technical skills required for the job, but rather hiring individuals who are compassionate and caring.
"We may not be bringing 100 jobs to Elkhart County, but we have 12 really important ones," he said. "Bring your heart, and we'll give you the training you need."
Source: The Elkhart Truth.
Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com