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, www.haloinc.org
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.