Demand for homeless services outpaces support

By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published September 14, 2006, 10:08 a.m.)

With the approaching cold months, the organizers of the Walworth County Emergency Shelter continue to see great needs without great support.

The group held a forum at Chapel on the Hill Tuesday evening to shine a light on the homeless problem in Walworth County.

Shelter volunteers joined county officials, law enforcement representatives and city and town leaders to discuss the topic.

Father Bill Myrick of Christ Episcopal Church in Delavan, along with a handful of other area churches and the Masonic Lodge of Delavan Township have been housing the county's extra homeless since November. While other facilities exist to help our area's homeless people, they are unable to fill the need.

County Administrator David Bretl said he would put $10,000 aside in the county budget to support the shelter, Myrick said. "He said he doesn't know if it will stay there, but at least there's a part of a conversation beginning to happen.

"The mere fact of it says, 'Wait a minute. We may have missed something. Let's talk about it.'"

The group sent out several-hundred invitations to the meeting, and over 100 people attended. Opinion surveys were also mailed, with less than a one-third response rate, according to Dustin Jenks, shelter volunteer, advocate and past resident.

Nevertheless, the response they did receive was encouraging.

"I was so happy to see the people that were there," Jenks said. "It was a fairly interesting cross-section of people."

"There's not a problem in Delavan that does not exist in Lake Geneva, that doesn't exist in East Troy. This is an all-county challenge and it's going to take an all-county response."

More volunteers are greatly needed so the emergency shelter can continue this year-especially through the winter season.

"Father Myrick asked interested people to gather afterwards, and I was so happy to see a group of about 20 people who did that," Jenks said.

"We got some more support, but not a ton," Myrick added. "But we really need a lot more parishes to house the shelter more than anything else.

"Some of our churches are tiring. We need parishes to embrace this challenge."

The need churches have to use their own facilities is clear, Myrick said. But to sacrifice those meetings and activities for just one week could mean a warm, safe place to sleep for someone without in dangerous weather.

Individuals not affiliated with a congregation but with the desire to help are also in great need.

Homelessness in Walworth County is not a new problem, Myrick is quick to point out. And it happens to regular people regularly.

"This has been a problem for a long time and is not strictly related to contemporary times or specific issues, i.e. high gas prices or the like.

Currently the emergency shelter is housing five individuals.

"I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but before this, organizations like Community Action and the Salvation Army were offering hotel vouchers of $50 to people that they were aware of."

While these vouchers are still available, they are on a limited basis.

With the current five shelter residents at $50 per night, that's $1,750 each week or $91,000 a year.

"Imagine what could be done with that money," Myrick said.

Myrick also hopes are to address homeless avoidance measures. Those include helping people before they're on the street because "it is much, much easier to keep people in their homes than it is to get them back in a house once they're on the street," he says.

But for now, Myrick's pleas remain the same. The Walworth County Emergency Shelter would be grateful for all county volunteer parish locations; volunteers as individuals, congregations or other groups; monetary donations; food for meals at shelter sites; and possible clothing needs of shelter residents.

Down the road Myrick sees a more permanent shelter location and possible mergers with existing homeless agencies as options. But for now, he can't stand by and let these people at a low point in their life go without a safe place to sleep.

"We need some organization, some mechanism."

Myrick can be reached at Christ Episcopal Church in Delavan, 728-5292. The 24-hour telephone number that travels with the shelter is (262) 903-WARM (9276). Individuals in need and emergency and law enforcement workers are encouraged to use this number anytime.

 

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