Hope for Helping the Homeless

I guess it’s not surprising given the troubled condition of our economy that the number of homeless has grown so rapidly. This past summer, I conducted a needs assessment for The Salvation Army of La Crosse (WI). They provide temporary emergency food and shelter for the homeless and help them with transition resources. They’re the only ones providing these services in northwest Wisconsin and the adjacent Minnesota area. Last year this small organization provided over 26,300 shelter nights. They’re over capacity, over worked and under resourced.

The findings of the assessment were startling. Probably the most troubling aspect of the study was to learn that a large portion of the increase in homeless are women with children. I talked with a few of them and their stories are heartwrenching. This change in the mix of shelter residents also adds to the complexity of operating the shelter since providing the right kind of accommodations for women and children vs. the number and configuration of beds becomes very difficult.

The conclusion of the assessment was that they need to take three big next steps (primarily): 1) Address the facility issue (probably need to move), 2) Redesign their Thrift Store model (a small source of income which needs to become bigger and more stable), and 3) Address their over-stretched resource and infrastructure issues.

I spoke with a number of city, county, media and business leaders in the area and The Salvation Army is very well respected. And they get a lot of financial and in-kind help from many good people in La Crosse and the surrounding area. But each of those three next steps are big projects in and of themselves and unfortunately I can’t afford to do the work with them for free (even if I charged 1/4 of my usual rate for businesses and ate all the expenses myself, they probably couldn’t afford to have me help them with the work). So, I’m not sure what they’re doing next. I am sure they will continue on. These people have smart minds, big hearts for the homeless and very skilled hands for the work. I’m just not sure how long they can keep up.

If you have any suggestions for how we can get this work done and The Salvation Army of La Crosse can continue to meet the growing needs of the homeless men, women and children in the area, I’m all ears. Let me know what you can do to give hope to helping the homeless.