View From Another Shelter | Letters | Chicago Reader

View From Another Shelter 

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To the editors:

Having read "The View From the Shelter" [July 20], I wanted to respond briefly with a view from another shelter, Dehon House, of which I am President of the Board of Directors.

In some ways, our experiences are similar; in others, they are strikingly different. The homeless cannot be lumped together as a "they" and talked about in generalities. For this reason, articles on the subject of homelessness present a real challenge to the writer/reader who must keep reminding themselves that they are writing/reading about some, but not all, of the homeless.

One striking difference about Dehon House is that each family is given its own room, a situation that Sister Connie says leads to drug use, drinking and child abuse. That has not been the experience at Dehon House, which has been a family shelter for women, men and children since January of 1981. Perhaps the scope of this program (8 families of varying sizes and 3 single men) is more conducive to enabling some privacy. It is our belief that families need to stay together after a crisis as traumatic as losing their homes, schools, friends, etc.

Another difference in the programs is that Dehon House enables its residents to access neighborhood programs, rather than provide everything on the premises. This is a deliberate attempt to train people to meet their own needs in a way that can continue after they are in their own apartments. It is important that people reach out for what's available and meet other people with the same needs rather than create a ghetto of the shelter. To be in a shelter can feel very isolating. Efforts must be made to keep people in contact with others.

The lack of affordable housing is very real. The poor who lack education, jobs, health care, and housing need many supportive services. These other needs can never be met until people see some hope for homes of their own. Many of the homeless who have successfully completed the program at Dehon House have shown ability and responsibility. Unfortunately, since they pay at least 80% of their income for housing, it is predictable that the crisis of homelessness may plague them again. Affordable housing is part of a process which will enable people to meet basic needs and continue to develop skills and responsibility.

Michael J. Manning

Dehon House

N. Greenview

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