For the homeless people of Pittsburg, winter can be a harsh time. One organization on campus has decided to help out the homeless this cold season.
Pittsburg State Enactus helped to open up “The Door” church as a “code blue shelter” as part of their work with homeless solutions.
“Our goal is really to get to the root of homelessness and help to address those underlying issues…” Heather Burger, president of Enactus, said. “We are going to try and focus on certain issues that lead to homelessness, specifically drug addiction and substance abuse. We realize that we can’t address everything, but we can do something.”
The church opens up for the night when the weather gets too cold. There are five beds available and the shelter is run by volunteers, many of whom are Pitt State students.
“Code blue can help,” Kelly Pulliam, Wesley House homeless case manager, said. “Last year, I know people didn’t take advantage of that enough. There were only a couple of people that did. Just getting started and people not really knowing when it was open or when they could go. So, I think that as that builds, yes, it’s going to be a good thing.”
Although the code blue shelters are currently the only overnight shelter for those in Pittsburg, there used to be C.H.O.I.C.E.S. Shelter which closed down a few years ago.
“The overnight shelter gave families a place to stay,” Pulliam said. “The single people, women, men, they could not go there because they didn’t have a family. So, it didn’t really affect that population, but it did affect our families. And to have one here would be a good thing because kids on the street at night, that’s never a good thing. It interferes with their education and everything.”
Although Wesley House does not have an overnight shelter, they do have a day shelter program that includes services such as laundry, breakfast and lunch, and a place to shower. There are currently more than 30 people enrolled in the program, and Pulliam would estimate the homeless population of Pittsburg at around 50.
“The homeless population of Pittsburg is very diverse,” Jamie Crowder, Wesley House housing case manager, said. “We work with young people, young individuals, couples that are just starting out. We work with people that have had barriers… and don’t have the family support perhaps that would normally help them with deposits and things like that to get into housing. We work with a certain percentage of people who are mentally ill… as well as folks that suffer with addiction. We have folks in our ranks that are undereducated, maybe didn’t finish high school, as well as those with degrees… You can become homeless because of one major expenditure…”
Crowder managed C.H.O.I.C.E.S. for around 8 years before their closure. In addition to her work at Wesley House, Crowder is currently heading up Pittsburg’s Homeless Task Force. They recently had their first meeting to gather with leaders and service providers in the area. Crowder is excited to see what will come from the project.
“I think that the Homeless Task Force really needs to be more than just a homeless task force,” Crowder said. “Some of the things that were brought up in the meeting and that we talked a little bit about were the lack of quality and affordable housing in our community… because part of the reason that we have some of our homeless folks end up homeless because of the poor housing stock. So if a house is posted and no longer inhabitable, if you are a tenant who’s been renting it, you’ve probably been renting it because you can’t afford anything else and so it creates that. So we really think that we need to work on homeless and housing as a whole picture.”
Students can make an effort towards helping homelessness by raising funds, volunteering at the Code Blue Shelter, or raising supplies. Pulliam had her advice on the best way to start towards helping.
“(People can) educate themselves,” Pulliam said. “I hear a lot of people saying, well, we don’t have anything for homeless people in Pittsburg. Well, we have the day shelter, we have housing services that we’re trying to address those problems and we’re really coming from the back end. It’s not like you hear it on the news every day. It’s more we’re just trying to make changes or getting to where we can make those changes… The education part is the most important part and knowing how to react when you meet someone who’s homeless… People see them and they tend to turn the other way.”
Burger and those in Enactus agree with Pulliam. The best way to start is with a bit of kindness.
“Talk to homeless people,” Burger said. “Visit with them. Treat them with dignity and respect. Get to know them. Listen to their stories. Treat them like a human being. Don’t give handouts, give ‘hand ups.’ Encourage them and let them know that they have something to offer the world and society – let them know that they’re not a number or someone’s burden.”