October 24, 2011
From Chicago Sun-Times:
Socal social service organizations say they’re struggling to keep pace with requests for help from the rising number of poor people in the face of government funding cuts and a continued weak economy that also has reduced charitable giving.
At Hesed House homeless shelter in Aurora, demand for help has come in waves, said Executive Director Ryan Dowd.
“Since the recession began, we’re probably on our fourth or fifth major wave of new homeless individuals and families,” he said. “This last wave, being the worst yet, hit in August. We set an all-time agency record for most number of people in one night.
“We had every bed in the whole building full. We pushed tables aside to put down more beds. We had people sleeping in chairs and had seven people volunteer to sleep outside.”
As the only homeless shelter in Aurora, he’s worried about the winter months.
“If we reach the point where we say we have maximum capacity, at that point we’re not referring to another shelter. We’re referring to a bridge. The game starts to change because sleeping outside is no longer just a nuisance or an inconvenience, it’s potentially deadly.”
Food pantries say they’re also feeling strained. All nine of the food pantries operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago were severely depleted at the end of August—a first for the organization, said Chief Executive Officer Monsignor Michael Boland.
On a recent weekday at the Catholic Charities food pantry in South Holland, the shelves were sparse with food.
Catholic Charities has responded to the shortage of food and funding by encouraging more people to have food drives and by reducing the days and hours some pantries are open.
The Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry has had to decrease the amount of food it gives out because of a surge in the number of people needing help, said Marilyn Weisner, executive director.
The shelter gets grant funding from the Emergency Food Shelter program, but the federal program’s budget was cut by 40 percent for this fiscal year, she said. Another federal program run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture last August provided 12,000 pounds of food to the pantry.
“This August, we got 6,000,” Weisner said. “We’ve been told that budget was also cut and we can expect to see that kind of decrease ongoing.”
Meanwhile the amount of money brought in through fundraising was down over the last fiscal year, she said.
State funding for homeless shelters was cut by 52 percent for fiscal year 2012 in the Department of Human Services budget, Dowd said, noting the shelter used to get around $135,000 but now gets about $65,000.
“Why homeless shelters got cut by over half in the middle of a recession is a complete mystery to me, but that’s the reality,” he said.
The shelter, a comprehensive homeless resource center, provides case management housing services, job training and employment services, as well as mental health, legal and substance abuse counseling services and help to veterans and children.Read More