Christian Help Inc. Helps Homeless Families
By Barbara Augsdorfer
When you hear the words “homeless person,” your mind automatically pictures a very dirty, smelly, unshaven man in ragged clothes standing on a street median and holding a cardboard sign. However, many homeless (and those just barely hanging on) are women, children, and entire families. The sudden loss of a job, a sudden catastrophic illness of a family member turns a family’s security of a home and food topsy-turvy, and without a back-up plan, many end up on the street. Some may be lucky enough to find a relative to temporarily take the kids and shield them from the brunt of the disaster. Still others may be lucky enough to scrape together a few dollars to hole up in a motel for a few days.
Many homeless people lack a network of other people and resources to rely on – and very soon, survival instincts kick in – anything goes. Many times pride is a culprit. Who wants to admit that they’ve “hit bottom” and have nothing?
Christian Help Inc. in Franklin was founded in 2003 with the mission of helping the homeless meet their immediate needs, and also help them get the skills needed to become self-sufficient – the “give a man a fish/teach a man to fish” concept. Before 2003, Johnson County did not have a shelter or any other resources for the homeless. CHI was begun with six people and $1,000 raised from a raffle at Our Lady of the Greenwood Church. After one year of prayer, service, and formation, CHI began to approach other churches to become involved. The “vision” is that CHI would be made up of Christians from all denominations who come together to help the poor and needy as taught in the Bible. Congregations that have joined with CHI include: St. Barnabas, New Hope Church, The Vineyard, Grace United Methodist, Sanctuary Church, Grace Assembly of God, Greenwood United Methodist, Greenwood Christian Church in partnership with Leadership Johnson County, and Mount Pleasant Christian Church.
On Jan. 25, 2012, Christian Help Inc. counted 122 homeless people in Johnson County. It doesn’t sound like much, but when the numbers are broken down, those numbers are really people: men, women, children, whole families. The statistic was part of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s data that provides Congress with the information it needs to allocate funding for homeless services such as housing, residential programs, hotel/motel vouchers provided by a public/private agency. Christian Help Inc. was serving 41 of the 122 counted on that January day.
From 2005 through June 2012, Christian Help Inc. worked with “Friendly Village” to refurbish mobile homes for homeless families. In addition to working on the refurbishing, CHI clients attended classes on life skills and home maintenance, and if applicable, completed a GED and gained job skills. After two years, the client graduated from the program. The client gained a refurbished mobile home to live in, job skills and in many cases, a job.
“We urge our clients to set goals and work toward meeting those goals,” says CHI Executive Director LaTheda Noonan. “Each client is treated as a unique individual. If that person didn’t finish high school, the client is encouraged to attend the classes necessary to attain his or her GED. The clients are also encouraged to attend classes that will give them job skills.” It’s all about setting and meeting goals, according to Noonan.
Christian Help Inc. has set goals for itself as a mission and organization. Among those goals is that within five years, CHI hopes to have sustainable business where its clients can work to not only earn income, but also acquire valuable job skills. “We don’t have a specific type of business in mind, yet,” says Noonan. “One of the ideas proposed was a restaurant.”
If that cold day in January was a revelation, here is another one: Those 122 people were only a portion of the actual homeless in Johnson County. Many don’t seek help and so are not counted. “In July we received 219 calls from people who needed help paying rent or utilities or for food,” Noonan said. “Those 219 calls represented 162 children, and 45 of the callers were already homeless. “We help as many as we can, but we are unable to help everyone who calls when funds are low or depleted,” Noonan adds. “In July we were able to help ten families with a total expenditure of $1,695. We are always seeking monetary donations to help the people who ask for it. We know the tough economy has made it difficult for people to help us.” And every little bit helps. Jennifer Petgen, CHI caseworker adds, “Don’t be afraid to give a donation because you think it’s not enough. A lot of ‘not enoughs’ makes something more.”
To get a brief perspective of what the life of a homeless person is like, Noonan and three caseworkers became “homeless” last summer, living in the “homeless van” for one week. They parked the van each night in a different location within Johnson County. The four women realized immediately that being homeless means not being to wash their faces and hands whenever they wanted; not having a debit card; not having a comfortable bed to sleep in; and having to take turns staying awake so none of them were in danger. Unlike other homeless people, though, the four women set some parameters. Most importantly, they agreed that if anyone’s health deteriorated to an unhealthy level, the experiment would end. Although the women lived as “homeless,” they still went to the CHI office and did their jobs each day. By day-three of the experience each of the women missed the routine and stability that having a place to call home provides. On day-six, the women “camped” at the CHI offices. Among the first things each of them appreciated was the safeness of a building, immediate use of bathroom facilities and sleeping on air mattresses.
The entire journal of the “homeless van” is available on-line. They each admitted the experience was “hard” but they met many helpful people along the way.
Christian Help Inc. is located at 227 E. Jefferson Street, Franklin. CHI is always seeking volunteers and of course more church and community partners. For more information, call (317) 346-9957. Monetary donations may be sent to: CHI, P.O. Box 7112, Greenwood, IN 46142. cg