Business is up, funding down for homeless families' drop-in centerby Greta Cunningham, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul's only day shelter for homeless children and families is seeing an increase in need at the same time federal funds are being reduced.
Close to 3,000 children are either homeless or in temporary shelters each night across the state. Services for homeless people are not typically geared to help children deal with instability and stress.
One shelter, The Family Place in St. Paul, is trying to meet the needs of those children and their parents.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Family Place is tucked behind a church in downtown St. Paul on 10th Street. It's a place where homeless families can shower, play, do their laundry and eat meals before going to another shelter at night to sleep. The Family Place serves 435 families a year and has been running at full capacity for the past 18-months.
Executive director, Margaret Lovejoy, started the drop-in day shelter in 2001 after hearing how homeless families were forced to spend their days.
"One mother told me she put her daughters on the school bus and then she got on a city bus and rode the city bus all day," Lovejoy said.
The federal government has restructured the way it allocates funds to support homeless people. The government now focuses on creating housing and is cutting money for emergency services like shelters. This move contributed to a $50,000 budget shortfall at The Family Place and almost forced the shelter to close a few weeks ago.
"As the client base went up the monies went down," Lovejoy said.
Before the shelter almost closed it received donations to keep it open through the summer, Lovejoy says.
The St. Paul police department has also been involved in making sure the Family Place stays open. Sergeant Paul Paulos says adult homeless shelters like Dorothy Day and Mary Hall in St. Paul are not proper environments for young children. Paulos says many people in the adult shelters are struggling with chemical dependency and mental health problems.
"You have the potential for people to exploit the children just as they exploit one another. Just all sorts of crimes could come out of this. Also we have to remember, what children see at a young age they repeat as adults. We have to give these kids a chance. That's most important," Paulos said.
The executive director of Listening House, a St. Paul drop-in day shelter for adults, agrees that adult shelters are no place for children. Rose Marie Reger Rumsey says at one point before The Family Place opened Listening House tried to serve both adults and families.
"Young families were left in very crowded conditions, and children who were just being children and doing normal childhood things like running and laughing and loud noises were disruptive to people who were maybe coming down from a high from the night before or were inebriated. So there was a lot of tension in the room from trying to mix the populations," she says.
Listening House serves about 200 homeless adults every day and can be a noisy, intimidating place.
That environment is a direct contrast to the calm and order Margaret Lovejoy tries to provide at The Family Place. Each morning families are bused to The Family Place after spending the night at a Maplewood shelter--one of few shelters in Ramsey County that can accomodate families. They eat breakfast at The Family Place before the children are put on buses and taken to school. Younger children and parents spend the day with Family Place counselors helping them find affordable housing and jobs. After school the older children return and have time to play and relax.
"We get to do the fun activities after school. Because I really think the kids need a rest--a time down to exercise that creative side of their brain," Lovejoy said.
After the evening meal the families return to the Maplewood shelter and the cycle begins again the next day.
Margaret Lovejoy is hoping to raise about $100,000 by the end of the summer to keep The Family Place open during the winter months. Lovejoy says securing stable funding is one of her top priorities.
"That's my role right now--protecting families. So what I'm asking the community to do is to support us so we can keep protecting families," she says.
Between 1991 and 2006, the number of homeless families in Minnesota more than tripled, from 434 families in 1991 to a peak of 1,413 in 2000 before it leveled off to its current 1,318 families, according to a 2006 report from the Wilder Foundation.
- Morning Edition, 07/05/2007, 7:20 a.m.