Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What I've Learned About Family Homelessness

I joined the Sheffield Place staff just over two years ago as the director of development.  I came to the job with no background in human services, but with some exposure to homelessness and domestic violence through volunteer experience.  As an outsider looking in, I’ve learned much about family homelessness in that time.  Here are some of the lessons:

The problem is huge.  I hadn’t realized.  Millions of people – up to 3.5 million by some counts – are homeless in America at some time during the year.  In Kansas City, 17,000 people experience homelessness annually.  What’s even more shocking is that nearly half (48.2%) of the homeless population in our community is made up of people living in families.  The vast majority of these families are single mothers with young children.  That’s nearly 8500 mothers and children without housing.  Yet they are invisible.  They don’t stand on street corners.  Rather, they couch surf, stay “house to house,” sleep in their cars, or camp out in park shelters, bus stops, or vacant houses. 
I talk with them every day.  We receive 100 calls a week.  They call Sheffield Place looking for housing.  We’ve greatly expanded our capacity since I started here, but we’re always full and have a long waiting list.  The homeless shelters are always full as well.  It is difficult to think about the women and children who can’t find shelter. 

The problem is deep.  The economy does not produce enough jobs to employ everyone who needs work.  The jobs that exist for people with few or no skills – barely pay enough to support a minimal existence even with public assistance. 
But that’s not the only problem.  These mothers and children are reeling from the effects of the trauma they have endured.  The mothers recount childhoods filled with the chaos of poverty, homelessness, sexual assault at the hands of family friends, beatings, psychological abuse, living in households where alcohol and drug abuse were the staples of daily life, and simple neglect.  Their relationships in adulthood mirror those they witnessed growing up.  Without intervention, the pattern will continue with their children. 

Band-aids won’t fix this problem.  Unless these families receive the sort of intensive therapy and other services over a sustained period of time, such as those Sheffield Place provides, the generational cycle will continue.

The problem is often misunderstood.  Many people think of homelessness as a man standing at an intersection asking for handouts.  That’s part of it.  Homelessness exists on a continuum.  On one end we find the people of the street.  Most of them are the victims of severe mental illness and chronic substance abuse.  At other end are people who cycle in and out of homelessness.  These people can become self-sufficient with adequate support as they recover from mental illness and addiction.

Change is possible.  I have had the privilege of seeing mothers transform themselves and their families.  Their example inspires me every day.  One mom is in recovery from alcohol and meth addiction.  A 6th grade dropout who used to prostitute herself of drug money, she is completing her GED and plans to become a substance abuse counselor.  Another mom – a teenage mother – is also in recovery and works full-time to support herself and her children. 

Many dedicated, thoughtful people are eager to help.  I’m also inspired by the hundreds of people who assist in innumerable ways at Sheffield Place – as volunteers in the children’s program, as tutors for the moms who are in school and for the children, as office helpers, as facilities maintenance workers, as special event volunteers, bakers, quilters, and as donors of monetary and in-kind support.  Without them, Sheffield Place would not be able to change lives and empower families to become self-sufficient.

All told, the past 2+ years have been among the most challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable of my career in fundraising and nonprofit management.  I look forward to many more.

David Hanzlick, CFRE
Director of Program & Development 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Moving Mountains

It’s not the traditional lifestyle, family, or home. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s where you’ll find a mother and her child(ren) day in and day out. Sheffield Place is designed to build this relationship and help the mother in the journey to rise from homelessness to self-sufficiency.

During Spring Break 2012, I went on a mission trip with St. Isidore’s Catholic Church, my home church while I’m at school at K-State. We went to St. Louis and had the opportunity to serve more than four different places and use our strengths in different areas that were needed at the time. I knew help wasn’t needed in St. Louis alone, so I looked into how I could help in Kansas City and almost immediately got set up with Sheffield Place.

After a series of e-mails, I walked in on the first day and had no expectations except helping to make a positive difference in the lives of the mothers and their children every moment I could. That first day I saw shame, fear, guilt, anger, abandonment, contempt, and self-centeredness, and I knew this was where I needed to be.

From meeting the child therapists Stephanie, and Mickie, and child care workers Janise, and Patty, I could tell that their hearts were so eager to feed love to the children at Project Hope day in and day out! They help mothers learn to make sounds decisions and have better judgment per each situation. It’s been incredible, and a life-changing experience at that, to see teachers and volunteers put in valuable time to instill values in the mothers that can be transformed to the children. In the short time of two months that I’ve been volunteering, I can see progress being made everyday. And this is just one of the reasons I keep coming back.

Sheffield Place is not just a brick building where fourteen mothers and their children live. Sheffield Place allows mothers and children to find hope in their home. They change the direction and perspective of their lives. It hasn’t been easy and it’s not about the past. I’ve learned it’s about moving forward, day by day, and it teaches children to find refuge in the comfort of their own family. Sheffield Place is positivity, humility, love, growth, progress, happiness, and most of all… hope. This is Project Hope.

This journey I was expecting to help others on, inadvertently became a journey for me.  In the end, I was the one who was moved and blessed beyond belief. There are quite a few lessons I have learned from spending my time in here three times a week -- From how to discipline children to seeing different perspectives in the right light.  But the greatest of these is this: Mountains can move.

By: Abby Guenther

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Goal - Expanding and Enhancing Children’s Programs

Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its hope for the best future.
- John F. Kennedy 

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that each year 1.6 million children - 4,400 daily - are homeless in the US.  Homeless children suffer from hunger, poor health, mental health issues, and barriers to education including limited proficiency in core subjects.  

Homeless children have three times the rate of emotional and are four times more likely to have developmental delays.  By age 12 the vast majority (83%) of homeless children has been exposed to serious violence and is sick four times more than other children.  More than 60% of clients served at Sheffield Place last year were children – most under five years old.  In 2011,  64 children – 39 under 3 years old - called Sheffield Place home. 

Sheffield Place is focusing on expanding and enhancing children’s services in 2012.  The goal is to provide services to help our youngest clients be successful and healthy.  

Sheffield Place provides children’s therapy, support and family therapy.  Therapy strategies include Parent Child Interaction Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Children, Ages & Stages, and other best practice interventions.  In addition to mental and physical health, physical and intellectual development, and education, children’s programming also includes drug prevention. 

Children’s services are necessary for the children to be successful now.  Children’s services also are critically important to break the cycles of homelessness, domestic violence, untreated mental illness, and addiction. 

Kelly Welch
Executive Director

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Beginnings

The holidays provided a wonderful ending to a great year at Sheffield Place.  Foundations, corporations, civic groups, sororities, professional associations, congregations, and individuals provided financial support, gifts for the families, supplies, and a wonderful sense of caring for the homeless mothers and families we serve.   One mother – let’s call her Cora – expressed her appreciation to the organization that adopted her family through a letter:

“I would like to thank you for adopting us. I have been clean and sober for almost 7 years. Before that, I was homeless and addicted to crack for 13 years. I lost three children to the State. My mom and dad were both alcoholics. I went into the (foster care) system at age 11 and stayed there until I turned 18. I have made many poor choices. When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I turned my life around. I lived at Sheffield Place for nearly 2 years. Sheffield Place taught me how to live my life. I’ve been in my own apartment for almost 2 years. I have a part-time job and am trying to obtain a GED. I am involved in the alumni group at Sheffield Place. Thank you so much.”

This mother clearly has experienced a new beginning.  Her success in overcoming addiction, gaining employment, bringing up her child, and improving her education inspires the other alumni moms and the current residents to keep working toward their goals.  Her example of a new beginning also encourages volunteers and members of the staff in their daily work. 
As an agency, Sheffield Place has also experienced a new beginning this year by substantially expanding the number of people we serve and the depth and breadth of the services we offer.  For example:

  • The number homeless mothers and children we served in 2011 (50 families) was 150% more than the 20 families the agency served in 2010.
  • The hours of service (individual therapy, group therapy, educational groups) the residents are required to receive expanded to 10 hours per week.
  • The expanded programming includes work readiness and personal financial management, a community garden to teach good nutrition, pet and music therapy, and a mentoring group in which the mothers share and teach their particular skills such as cooking, knitting, or first aid.
  • A new outpatient case management program provides continuing support to 20 families that have transitioned to permanent housing and case management for up to 75 homeless women and their children who need non-residential services case management and other supportive services.
  • The Missouri Department of Mental Health granted provision certification with full certification expected in 2012.
The New Year will bring a host of new beginnings for the families at Sheffield Place.  Fifty homeless families will receive the residential, treatment, and supportive services they need to follow in Cora’s footsteps on the path to self-sufficiency.  Dozens of other families will receive the outpatient services they need to remain or become self-sufficient. 

For all of this, Sheffield Place is deeply grateful to our many friends and supporters in Kansas City and well beyond.  To each of you, I wish a very Happy New Year!

Kelly Welch
Executive Director