BY KATIE MATTESON
On any given day, there are approximately 250-300 homeless people in Racine County.
This statistic comes from a count done on the fourth Wednesday of January each year called a Point-in-Time. This year, teams went out on Jan. 23 and systematically counted homeless people throughout the county.
The HOPES Center of Racine gets involved in this annual count as part of The Continuum of Care for the City and County of Racine, which is comprised of agencies, groups and individuals that work with and are concerned about people experiencing homelessness in Racine.
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization and sponsored ministry of the Racine Dominicans, HOPES Center of Racine conducts street outreach to people who are living in places not meant for human habitation. Street outreach teams provide for some of the basic needs of people on the streets, offer to take them to shelter and provide information on services available in Racine.
“The key to our program is that we meet people where they are,” Executive Director Scott Metzel said. He estimates that his agency helps more than 1,000 individuals during the year.
HOPES offers services at its office at 521 6th St. in Downtown Racine during the day and on the streets of Racine at night.
The office, which is open 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., Monday – Friday, offers a place for the homeless to get a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate while meeting with their caseworkers and other staff, using the phone, checking their mail or just taking a nap after a sleepless night on the streets.
Street Outreach teams consisting of a staff member and one or two volunteers go out from 9 p.m. to midnight on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights. When the weather gets dangerously cold they go out additional nights.
Retired minister Warren Williams is a HOPES board member and the street outreach team leader.
Williams explained that it typically takes repeated visits to those living on the streets by the outreach teams before trust is established and the individuals begin to accept help.
“Once they begin to accept the basic supplies and food we offer, then we can start to help find them housing, health care and employment services,” Williams said. “We always encourage them to go to a shelter, but many don’t want to because of crowded conditions and mental health issues like post traumatic stress disorder.”
“Sometimes the best thing we can do is provide social contact and simply listen to their stories,” he added.
Teams go out with blankets, sleeping bags, socks, hand warmers, granola bars and water. They also offer hot coffee and tea, hot burritos and raman noodles to the people they find on the streets.
Metzel explained that HOPES takes a “housing first” approach to homelessness. Tenant based rental assistance is offered without precondition to people who are literally homeless (in a shelter or living in a place not meant for human habitation) with the objective of moving out of homelessness and into an apartment as soon as possible.
When an opening is available in the HOPES Center’s Rapid Rehousing Program, participants are selected through the coordinated entry system of the Continuum of Care for the City and County of Racine. People who are residing in Racine shelters or have contact with the street outreach team complete a vulnerability assessment and are placed on a housing prioritization list. Rapid Rehousing selects people from that list based on vulnerability and the length of time someone has been homeless.
HOPES case workers assist them in achieving housing stability through mental health services, primary health care, substance abuse treatment, and income through employment or benefits. The ultimate goal is for the rapid rehousing participant to be able to take over payment of the unit after completing the rapid rehousing program and remain permanently housed.
PATH stands for Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness. It is a program of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), which links people who are homeless and have a chronic mental illness to services. PATH also assists people who are at risk of homelessness and have a mental illness. PATH participants receive case management, which assists them in accessing primary health care, mental health services, disability income, and housing.
HOPES relies on volunteers to work in the office, street outreach and fundraising. If you are interested in joining in any of these efforts please contact Kathie Solie at (262) 898-2940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The items distributed during street outreach are almost all donated. Donations can be dropped off at the HOPE Center office, located across the street from Indian Motorcycle during the office hours. Needed items for winter outreach include:
- Heavy Blankets and Sleeping Bags
- Thermal Socks
- Hand Warmers
- Frozen Burritos (which they bake, wrap and take out to serve warm)
- Ground Coffee
- Hot Chocolate in individual packets
- Bottles of Water (16 oz
You can also help by attending or supporting the organization’s annual fundraiser, Raising Hopes with Talent, set for Saturday, March 9 from 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. at the Siena Auditorium, 5635 Erie St. The cost is $20 in advance or $25 at the door for adults, $10 for children 6-13 and free for children 5 and under.
For more information, call (262) 898-2940 or visit hopescenter.org.