Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Homeless: So Much Need

I am continually stunned by the number of social service agencies in Uptown. There are youth services and services for specific ethnic groups and services for specific problems. However what affects me and our guys directly are the services for the homeless and the poor. Our neighborhood has many agencies addressing the related issues and yet every agency is overwhelmed by how big the demand for services is and how limited their resources are.

Jesus People USA has a number of shelters. I had an opportunity to tour their facilities. The shelters are in what was once referred to as “Blood Alley.” It was one of the most dangerous areas in the city. Today it is an area where people come together to begin to turn their lives around.

The shelters, collectively known as Cornerstone Community Outreach provides emergency housing for homeless men, women, families and single parents and their kids. One of the two buildings is enormous. It is five stories tall and each floor is 11,000square feet. They provide housing for over 400 people.

Cornerstone Community Outreach Commercial

A couple of doors down from Emmaus Ministries is Ezra café sponsored by Jewish United Fund. While Ezra is primarily focused on helping poor and homeless Jews in the area they provide assistance to many people in Uptown. They also provide services for a large Russian Jewish community. The café provides hot meals for members of the neighborhood.

Just to the west of us is Uptown Baptist church. This is one of the most active churches in the area. It has a long history working with diverse peoples. A few blocks north is The Peoples Church. This is a very different church with a strong liberal history. Both churches share one thing in common. They both provide facilities for R.E.S.T. shelters. The shelter provides emergency housing for men (the Peoples church) and women (Uptown Baptist church.) Neither facility is elegant but both get folks off the streets. I have seen both shelters. They are not pretty but they are so necessary. Additionally, on Monday evening the Uptown Baptist church provides meals for the neighborhood.

There are also feeding stations, vans with hot meals. They are provided by Night Ministries. Night Ministries provides food, guidance and health checks.

Further down Wilson Ave, in the Ravenswood neighborhood is the All Saints Episcopal Church. The church started a food pantry. The pantry became too successful because the need is so great. So the pantry became an independent not-for-profit corporation, the Ravenswood Community Services. The provide bags of food every Tuesday as well as sit down meals. They also provide tutoring for youth.

Further north on Sheridan Drive is Inspiration Café and Café Too. They are a vocational training program for the homeless. They are set in elegant cafes. The “students” learn how to serve food and customers. By the end of the training the clients have earned food service licenses.

Inspiration Corporation Video

Emmaus works with all of these agencies and more. REST shares food with us. In return we give them baked goods. JPSUA and Emmaus share foods and support. Our clients are referred to all of the mentioned services

There is a large Salvation Army shelter for families. It is always busy. The housing does not service Uptown. Rather, it provides services for homeless families for the entire Chicagoland area.

Notice I never mentioned agencies for AIDS/HIV or substance abuse or mental health counseling. They all exist here but that will be another entry.

I have toured Ezra, Conrnerstones, REST, JPUSA and Ravenswood Community Services. I will be attending training with Inspiration Café and Night Ministries. The goal is to become acquainted with the breadth of services provided in Uptown and to assess the strengths and limitations of each program.

I am impressed with how many dedicated servants there are in Uptown. However, with the demands far exceeding the resources I am concerned that burnout for many cannot be far behind.

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