May 8, 2009

Positively Racine: HALO offers a place of hope and connection

By Bill Griffiths

No one wants to live at a homeless shelter if they have other choices.

Most people don’t even want to contemplate living at a shelter. People will do everything they can, including calling in every favor from anyone and everyone they ever knew, before they seek out a shelter. Often, people who desperately need help don’t ask for it, don’t know who to ask, or densely woven pride and shame won’t permit them to ask.

There are people who’ve made a lifetime of bad decisions in short lives, some choices they aren’t even aware of or capable of understanding. Others carry with them problems that were part of a flawed or failed upbringing. Even more have encountered circumstances beyond their control that have been compounded by a non-existent or diminished network of family and friends. For these people, there often isn’t further to fall, and with luck or Providence they find shelter and caring, and perhaps some tough love.

The Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization (HALO), on DeKoven Avenue, has two separate shelters under one roof. It has room for 60 men in one and 60 women and children in the other, and over the last year has cared for about 115 people per night. In one calendar year, that is nearly 42,000 nights of shelter and care.
HALO has evolved from the substantial earlier efforts of Homeward Bound and the Racine Emergency Shelter Task force (REST). Those programs exhausted well-meaning churches and volunteers providing shelter in different churches on different nights. There was also some significant frustration that those efforts alone couldn’t change the peoples’ circumstances. It’s obvious that the caring community of Racine and the talented people who operate HALO have learned many lessons and put a great deal of thought, effort and dollars into creating the programs in place today.

A tour of HALO quickly dispels any preconceived image of a dark and dirty place that reeks of hopelessness, filled with drunks and derelicts. Among the most surprising things one finds is not just a clean and welcoming space (which is a genuine surprise), but a program. It’s not just a shelter, and because of the thought that went into it and the efforts that sustain it, it helps create positive outcomes.
When a person in need first arrives at HALO, often they need a place to rest …warmth, meals and a place to sleep…a place to gather their thoughts on what to do next. Beyond a short initial period, idleness is not the norm. HALO doesn’t have residents, or guests, or clients. It has "participants." Every one of the participants develops an individual success plan to pursue, and meets regularly with a caseworker who monitors that progress is being made.

Executive Director Cheryl Buckley describes a full daily schedule where the participants must be active and involved…not just staying, not just taking up space.

"We don’t have a limit on how much time a person can spend here. The first 30 days are probationary. Case managers are tough. If you don’t stick with our program, if you don’t behave the way you say you will, you’re out. Sometimes it’s about getting the right help, medications that can lead back to better decision making, or access to government programs that may take a long time to act. It’s very self-defeating and hopeless to give people a set time. A lot of things don’t happen fast."

Some of the participants who have been helped by HALO serve on an advisory council that helps the oversight boards in Racine learn from personal experiences at HALO and offers feedback on potential changes. To talk with people who have moved on with their lives after a stint at HALO is to learn about caring, shelter and food provided, but also about a myriad of services with which they have been connected.

"This is one of the few shelters that offers any program…most give you some food, a place to sleep, and tell you where to get help, but don’t themselves offer help. People who come to a shelter constantly want changes to make it more comfortable for them, but HALO doesn’t want to make it too comfortable, they want you to correct the things that brought you there and get on with your life."

Among the programs HALO connects people with are: addiction counseling and treatment, psychological services (and associated pharmaceutical treatments), immunizations, child development assessments, parent education classes, GED classes, job training, conflict resolution training, and many others…all aimed at breaking the cycles that resulted in these broken lives.

In a society that is much about lots of activity that passes for action, HALO distinguishes itself by being real assistance. It is about collaboration among several organizations and about putting people and their lives back together. Ms. Buckley has marshaled Racine’s good hearts and largess, federal funding, corporate funding, local programs, and helped open peoples’ eyes to new solutions.

HALO has an important mission: a commitment to preventing chronic homelessness in Racine County by meeting shelter needs and coordinating supportive services. Racine has plenty of reasons to be proud. HALO’s existence and program quality are unlikely reasons, but definitely among the best.

To contact HALO, phone 262-633-3235,

If you know of anyone whose lives and self-esteem are on the verge of crumbling, see what you can do yourself to reach out. Beyond that, put them in touch with "211," Racine County’s centralized human services information line and lifeline to assistance.

To find out about other resources in Racine County, click here.


  1. Great piece Dustin, thank you.

    And a big thanks to all of the people that make HALO what it is in this community.

    Another reason to be proud of Racine and the people trying to make a difference.

  2. Wish there were more articles about what is good in Racine and there is alot. Unfotunately seems like a small group prefers to dwell on the negative.

    Keep writing this type of story and the Racine Post will become a major source for news in Racine.

  3. Big Hype, Disappointing Reality5/08/2009 3:21 PM

    As Paul Harvey used to say--
    "And now, for the REST of the story..."

    HALO is a BUSINESS. Where is the information about the amount of grant money funneled to this organization through our city? Where is the information about Cheryl Buckley's CEO level wages?

    HALO needs people to be desperate in order to exist. It doesn't actually do a darn thing except house people. Once they are gone, the clients often continue to have issues that cause them to remain homeless and in poverty. This organization does NOTHING. It is not successful. It is impossible to call an organization that says its mission is "preventing chronic homelessness in Racine County" successful when it is NOT reducing homelessness in the community. If this were a business in the for-profit sector, then it would have been shut down long ago due to it's lack of success.

    Let's keep it real, Racine. Anyone who knows anything about the REAL HALO knows that what I have stated here is the truth. Ms Buckley has great PR skills and sells an image of HALO that is not accurate.

    If I am wrong, then where are the statistics demonstrating success - not just of reducing homelessness by providing shelter, but of reducing homelessness by changing lives? (And I suggest that those numbers should come from a source not tied to the money or staff in this organization.)

  4. Dear Big Hype, you are disapointing. I know for a fact that Halo is funded through grants it writes for that are public grants. Some of this conmes from Community Action Agency and , federal housing grants. and good private citizens who care about homeless people NO MATTER WHO OR UNDER WHAT REASON THEY ARE HOMELESS. Yes they are sent to other non-profits for help out of poverty. But , people like you do not like to fund social program remember?
    Your insistance that Halo is a bad place is just unfounded. Frankly people like you scare me. Do you care about anyone , really?

  5. Dear Big Hype, Sounds like a jealousy problem with the Director. Cheryl has been heading up many community projects and programs; she is seasoned with experience and the gumption to get things done. Halo offers quite alot to those who need it, sounds like you have everything, like a home. Sorry if you don't see Halo for what it is, a community asset.

  6. I have personally witnessed 2 people who have come out of HALO profoundly changed. Please check your facts before bashing an excellent program.

  7. Big Hype, Disappointing Reality5/10/2009 1:16 PM

    A personal story regarding 2 people doth not a statistic make.

    Still waiting on the numbers...

    A lot of angry supporters with no real grasp of the "work" being done by HALO, but no facts.

  8. Big Hype, Disappointing Reality5/10/2009 1:28 PM


    Your comment is fraught with assumptions. Let's go through them one by one so that I can set the record straight and avoid ignorance defining perspective.

    (1) I never indicated that I discriminate against one type of homelessness or another, which is what your comment infers that I did. My complaint is regarding the ineffectiveness of HALO.

    (2)I never once stated that I don't believe in funding social programs. In truth, I don't believe in funding programs that are not effective.

    (3) My opinion is not unfounded. I am familiar with this nonprofit, the staff, the mission, the clients and the services. My statements are based on that knowledge -- not something I read online or heard aobut at a fundraising event.

    I'll say it again. There are many non-profits that are not effective. There are also programs that do great work. We need to fund the ones that work and fix or eliminate the ones that don't.

    Look -- Directors cover up the negative elements of their businesses. Boards perpetuate positive PR for funding and reputation purposes. People buy it. We need to start looking at numbers and listening to the clients who use the services. Trust me, they aren't buying the hype. They know the organizations for what they really are. Unfortunately, the directors and boards have won the ear of the disconnected middle-class, who has taken on the role of defending these paltry organizations.

  9. Big Hype, Disappointing Reality5/10/2009 1:36 PM


    This isn't jealousy. It's disgust. I'm tired of people making money off of the suffering of others.

    I'm tired of organizations claiming to help the community, but not meeting their alleged goals.

    HALO says that they are reducing homelessness. What is wrong with asking them to prove their statement?

    Yes, Cheryl has been in the community for a long time. She has great connections to powerful people. She has a reputation for her incredible fundraising ability. For example, it's amazing how quickly she raised the money necessary to create HALO. Literally - a mini-miracle.
    However, when it comes to their real mission -- actually reducing homelessness - the organization she is leading is not doing this effectively.

    Wake up, Racine. Providing a paltry level of service to this community, which desperatly needs it, is almost worse than providing no service at all.

  10. BH,DR has some very valid points. I worked in REST for 11 years. All that time I felt like an enabler to these people that used it. If HALO is providing service's for them to get out of their situation, then I am all for it. But like BH,DR said, I need statistics to back it up. The lady that runs it makes a pretty penny compared to those that use to run REST.

  11. Hey.. I'm 24 years old and I am currently homeless. I have no other choice but to turn to Halo, I cannot find a steady job nor' depend on my family to have a healthy home, is halo a good choice for commitment?