DAEOC Homeless Shelter: Fresh start for a better life for families

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

SIKESTON -- It is a letter Joel Evans keeps framed at his Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation office.

Sketched at the top is a building with six doors. Printed in pencil are the words:

"Dear Shelter I'm glade you gave us a place to lay my head and give us food and drinks and I'm glad that ya'll put us in a place and exually for my mom thank you so much god will bless you pepal thank you so much"

Evans, president and CEO at DAEOC, admits the child's words changed how he viewed DAEOC's homeless shelter.

"I hadn't really thought about it before but (the homeless shelter) was the first place that they had lived that was safe and stable and clean," Evans said. "It really opened my eyes then."

Evans pointed out while there are shelters serving homeless men and others for women, DAEOC's five motel-style units are designed as a place where families from throughout DAEOC's six-county service area, can stay together. And, he added, it is the only one of its kind in Southeast Missouri.

Three of the units provide a combined bedroom and kitchenette with enough room to sleep three and a separate bathroom. The two larger units have a second bedroom.

The building also houses DAEOC's outreach office along with the shelter office. Evans said this enables the operations to share utility and personnel costs with other programs and helps reduce operation costs at a time when the organization is facing funding challenges (see sidebar).

According to Amy Hopper, homeless contract specialist for DAEOC, the five units, which are located at 820 Anderson St., are never vacant. As soon as one family makes a transition to stable housing, the unit is cleaned and the next family moves in.

Loomas said typically there is a waiting list of five to 10 families.

Annually, the homeless shelter serves about 35 families depending on the length of their stay. Loomas said the average stay is 45 to 60 days.

"There are as many reasons for being in a homeless shelter as there are for poverty - job layoffs, many of those in poverty are working at jobs that are below a living wage or they are living from check to check and don't have the resources for an emergency. So if there is a layoff or an illness, a car breakdown, any of those things can spin them into the cycle of homelessness," Evans said

Loomas said for some families, the homeless shelter is a last resort.

"A lot of people are couch surfing, sleeping in sheds, in their cars," she said. "There is a huge need for the shelter."

The homeless shelter provides not only a safe place to stay, but working with the SEMO Food Bank, families are also provided food and some personal items.

While at the homeless shelter, a case manager meets with the family. According to Loomas, the case manager helps the families determine the challenges they must deal with and together they work to find solutions.

Brooke Brummell said she is grateful for the services provided at the shelter for her, her husband and their three children. Working with DAEOC and their case worker, Brummell said she was able to further her education and her husband found a better-paying job.

"We opened our first bank account during the time we were at DAEOC and were able to save some money to become more financially stable than we were," she said.

The family has since moved into a more permanent home.

Evans called the "life coaching" one of the biggest resources DAEOC provides for those at the shelter.

"Our job is to help them find the resources, to give them the right path to return to having a sense of safety and security. Our goal in providing the shelter is to give them hope," he said. "In some cases they leave the community but in many cases they stay here (in Sikeston) ... and they have become productive citizens in the community."

Evans acknowledged many people aren't even aware of DAEOC's homeless shelter and its service to families. One of the reasons is that there is no sign identifying the building as a homeless shelter, and that is by design.

Evans said the sign was taken down shortly after he began working for DAEOC.

"I visited the homeless shelter to leave some documents early one morning when I noticed two little girls waiting for their school bus under the building's awning. Above their heads was the sign that read 'DAEOC Homeless Shelter.' The sign came down that day to afford our guests the dignity and respect they deserve as they rebuild their lives," Evans said.

"It is not signed as a homeless shelter; it is just a home," he said. "For many people, it is a safe place and a good option. For the little girl who drew the picture, it was obviously home."

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