A 2010 national report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that as much as 2.9 percent of Indiana’s population was homeless. Those numbers are expected to rise when the Department of Commerce releases the annual Point in Time homeless count later this year.
“This is a community issue and we need the community’s help to continue our mission,” said Eric Lane, founder of Fellowship Missions which operates two homeless centers in Warsaw – one for men and one for women.
On average, Fellowship Missions houses 28 men and women each night. With just 33 beds between the two locations, Lane explained the financial needs to keep the facilities operating and helping those who come to the shelters because they have no place else to go, is a month to month challenge.
Homelessness in Kosciusko County is, for the most part, not a “visible” problem. Lane said the homeless may be individuals and families who often stay with friends or family for short periods of time, or they are multiple families residing in one residence. “The Gatke building is also another popular place for them to go,” he added, as are “tent cities” and even campgrounds.
The people who find their way to the shelters are the victims of the economy, abusive relationships or the result of poor decisions that have set them back. But because Fellowship Missions is about helping those people to heal and live productive lives, there are rules for those utilizing the shelter.
Lane said everyone is required to be checked into either of the shelter’s by 8 p.m. each night. They also must take a breathalyzer and have no trace of alcohol in their system. “A lot of people won’t come to the shelter because we have rules. They can come and stay for 14 days as an emergency shelter,” he added. “After that, there is a stewardship program. Those who agree to enroll in it can stay up to 12 months. Those who refuse the help can’t stay past the 14 days.”
According to DHUD, More than 1.59 million people spent at least 1 night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program during the 2010 homelessness reporting period. That was a 2.2 percent increase from 2009. Sadly, the findings also show that most users of homeless shelters used only emergency shelter while just 17 percent used only transitional housing, and less than 5 percent used both emergency shelter and transitional housing during the reporting period.
“The purpose of Fellowship Missions is to not enable people (to remain homeless), but to help them break the cycle.” Lane explained that, through the stewardship program, other local service agencies and churches assist with counseling, mentoring and by even offering educational programs to retrain or teach skills.
To operate the shelters, which are currently utilizing two rented homes, Lane said Fellowship Missions requires about $11,500 each month. That covers the cost of rent, food, hygiene products, laundry detergent and the utilities. There is no state or federal funding because the organization is faith-based.
Fellowship Missions charges the clients nothing, but they are required to assist in the general upkeep of the facilities. When tornadoes hit southern Indiana in March, Lane said they took 10 residents of the shelters down to help. “We handed out personal hygiene products to the people affected by the tornadoes,” Lane explained. “It was good for them to help other people who also lost everything.”
This year, Fellowship Missions also started a community garden where they have been growing sweet corn and other produce. “They planted it and hand-watered it all summer long.” As a result of their labor, the produce was sold outside of the men’s shelter on South Buffalo Street. Lane added, “It was just money that came back into the missions, but it made them feel good to be a part of something.”
With the city of Warsaw’s blessing, Fellowship Missions has applied for grants that will allow the organization to purchase the old Tri-Namic Printing building at 658 S. Buffalo St. While it may be some time before it is ready to be opened as a shelter, Lane said plans have already been drawn up and include a men’s facility at one end, a women’s facility in the back, and a common area where the cafeteria will be located. It will also have a capacity for 50 beds to start.
Fellowship Missions opened the men’s home on April 1, 2010, and the women’s home on Dec. 15, 2010. Last year, Lane said they served a total of 146 adults and 26 children. He expects those numbers to be slightly higher this year.
In addition to the shelters, Fellowship Missions hosts The Gathering twice each month. The Gathering is a free meal and time of fellowship for those in need. Held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at Center Lake Pavilion, Lane said they are averaging 140 people per meal.
Volunteers are crucial to the success and continuation of both shelters and the monthly meals. Right now, Lane and his wife are the two key employees. There are two volunteers who help at the women’s shelter and two interns from Indiana-Purdue University at Fort Wayne are now helping with administrative work.
But the financial needs are also great. The cost of the shelter breaks down to $348 per bed each month. Those costs include personal hygiene products, food and the services provided. But Lane offered that if 400 people could donate just $29 per month, the shelters would make ends meet. “Corporate and large donors are great, but we need the continued support,” explained Lane.
All donations to Fellowship Missions are tax deductible because it is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization.
To inquire about donating or even volunteering, contact Eric Lane at [email protected].