When I was called to Pine Ridge to lead the center, being a homeless day shelter was not in the plans. But, as I have said many times, Man Plans and God laughs. Coming in the middle of the pandemic things are not normal. Even for here. We have not hosted a group in person since January 2020.
We have always worked with the homeless community. Typically, this involved our sandwich handouts and giving out hygiene kits and quilts. Oh, and use of the phone.
In the fall of 2020, we upped our game. Working with partners we offered hot meals and brought in a shower trailer. Having the ability to help people get clean is awesome. We had one guest tell us that they had not showered since March of that year.
In January of 2021 I was asked by some other ministries on the reservation to be part of a grant request. This was both the best decision and the worst decision I have made since I have been here. In May we were awarded a large grant to address homelessness. I was unprepared for the amount of work this would lead to nor was I ready for the feedback from the community.
Overall, I am thrilled that we were awarded the grant. But I am grateful that we were able to split off from the other agencies. It is enough work on our own.
We have successfully placed 14 families in permanent homes. We continue to work with them to do our best to make this a long-term change. We could do more if we could find homes. But inventory is the issue.
Since the fall of 2021 I have been asked to be a part of 3 different committees to address the issue of homelessness in Pine Ridge. Only 1 of these committees is still active. This committee is the one that helped us work with the tribe to have us operate the shelter for the tribe. This led to us putting our building to use as a day shelter.
In my time addressing homelessness I have found that the problem is more complex than most people understand or want to admit to.
We have multiple forms of homelessness. We have had to help the state understand the differences of reservation life homelessness. Here the issue is not people living on the street as much as overcrowding in homes.
I see the issue as:
- Chronically Homelessness. Those people who truly do not have a place to stay. We operate the shelter to keep people alive. We hope to give them hope and encourage them to make the changes they need to make to change their situation. In the meantime, we keep them alive.
- This crowd has people who do want to change their lives. They need help in getting the documentation and treatment that they need. We have helped multiple people at the shelter take this next step. We hope to provide an option for people to make changes here in the community. Working with partners we want to establish a community to help these people.
- Another issue is the lack of transition homes. If a family is displaced because of a fire, home damage or any other situation that causes them to become homeless, currently there is no place to house them in the short term. We need to develop some short-term transitional housing. We have considered using the upper level of the shelter as transitional housing.
- Seniors. Often elderly people are not treated with the respect they deserve. For example, one of our partners went to a house for a safety check and found an elder living in the basement sleeping on a pile of blankets using the floor drain as a toilet. When they went to remove him from this house, for his safety, there were no available beds. They had to call around to find a family or friend who would take him in. This only lasted 2 nights before that person wanted him out. We need more available elder housing.
- Many people are living in a situation in which too many people are in one house. Sharing 1 bathroom. Many of the people want to move out but there are not enough homes available. We need more housing options. I would love to see some apartments built to address many of the situations above.
- The last thing we deal with on a regular basis is inadequate housing. Too many people live in places that are in desperate need of repair. The trailers were not designed to be in use this long in this climate. Space heaters are needed to keep warm, but the electric systems are not built for the wattage needed. The homes are under-insulated and worn out. Last year I had the funds to hire job corp members to repair multiple homes. We kept people in their homes and kept them safe.
There are many other issues that affect the issue. There is no simple solution. But we must start with keeping people safe before we can move on to addressing the other issues.
We can show people this love in many ways. Telling them to be fed or to stay warm is not enough if you do not take care of their earthly needs.
God loves these people. So do I.
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