It's a busy time at St. Francois County's transitional shelter.
“We have a full house and our phone is ringing nonstop,” Shelly Bess, director of Shared Blessings, said on Monday afternoon.
Lately, they’ve had people appear at their doorstep to escape from the weather.
“We’re not a typical shelter,” Bess said. “We’re a transitional building.”
This means that the residents have a period to stay while they apply for jobs or housing in the area.
A volunteer of three years, Lori Dickerson quotes a saying their social workers like: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’re gonna get what you’ve always got.” This is the philosophy they use to guide their residents to self-sufficiency.
“To the majority of people here, life just isn’t fair,” Bess said. "They are people who have spent all their savings from being sick, or lost their house in a fire. By the time they get to us, they’ve burnt all of their bridges.”
There are organizations who help with homeless people but the residents of Shared Blessings follow a care plan to help them eventually go out on their own and succeed. Volunteers with expertise in social work or counseling help design those plans.
Lasting 60-90 days, the care plan typically gives the occupants enough time to save up some money to move out and become self-sufficient. They are each tailored to fit the needs of the individual.
Some local businesses are willing to accommodate the occupants with jobs, since they are within walking distance from the shelter. This extends to housing, where property owners will sometimes waive some fees to make unaided living smoother.
Since Bess has a good reputation, property owners trust her word on the backgrounds of potential clients.
“She’s often correct about which people will succeed,” Dickerson said. “She just has a gift for it.”
There is a 25-question survey which helps sort through applicants who don’t have any intention of working toward being self-supportive but instead are just looking for a warm bed as long as possible. But the good news is that some of them who just want a place to stay, Bess said, do change anyway and find a way out of their situation eventually.
“Most of our successes come from families who can learn to live cheaply,” Bess said about the success rate. “Younger folks and older folks have a harder time following the plan.”
Bess said volunteers and donations are important.
“We’re not government (subsidized), so we have to rely on donations and sponsors," she said.
The main guideline for donations: “anything you use in your house, we can use in ours.”
Volunteers are welcome for teaching the residents about cooking, parenting, mowing, and budgeting. Anything that a person is qualified to do and passionate about is a welcome contribution. Some cook meals and do Bible studies on weekends. Others are appreciated to give rides, especially in the bitter cold weather.
But mostly, Dickerson, said, they need people to run the office. This can be one or two days a week, and adapted to fit a flexible schedule.
“We don’t want it to be a hassle for them to be here,” Dickerson said. “Those who want to work come in and take a tour, and are usually very surprised. Then they decide if they want to come back and train with somebody.”
There are a lot of misconceptions about Shared Blessings especially this time of year on Facebook. People who are turned away will post negatively about it, despite not applying, or because they were rejected on the questionnaire.
Some misconceptions about the homeless spread to real life. Kathy Grogan, a resident advocate, shared a story about trivia night. Someone asked her why the homeless didn’t attend. It turns out that they were in the audience, but looked just like the other people there.
Shared Blessings has kept the doors open for 13 years thanks to fundraising and donations, but there’s always a need for more funds.
There are two upcoming events in March to help raise necessary dollars. At 8 a.m. March 16 the Shamrock Shuffle 5K run and walk will kick off at 518 Grove St. in Bonne Terre with a $25 entry fee.
Then on March 29 there will be a trivia night at 118 E. School St. The entry cost will be $20.
All proceeds will benefit Shared Blessing, and anyone interested in sponsoring the fundraisers can buy an advertisement for both events.