GREEN BAY — Since opening its doors on Oct. 29, the Micah Center has been a refuge for homeless men and women who need a place to stay warm in the daytime hours. The center, a ministry of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, also provides job search assistance, free medical check-ups, drug and alcohol counseling and computer training.
On Dec. 12, Bishop David Ricken, joined by Micah Center staff, board members and clients, toured the 4,000-square-foot center located at 700 E. Walnut St. He also led a brief prayer service and blessed each room with holy water.
The Micah Center operates year-round from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is also open on Sunday afternoons. Guests from St. John Homeless Shelter, which operates from November through April from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m., can make the seven-block trek to the Micah Center.
“Our ministry is not confined to people who stay at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter,” Deacon Timothy Reilly, president of the shelter’s board of directors, told The Compass in August. “Anybody who walks through the door is going to be welcome and, if they are in need of help toward self-sufficiency and not able to get that from other agencies in the community, we want to be there or we want to help direct them to the right agencies.”
Since opening its doors, the Micah Center – named for a passage found in the Old Testament’s Book of Micah (“To act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God”) – has served about 50 people each day.
Among the guests who have benefited from the Micah Center is Santiago Schmerber. He grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas, and came to Green Bay 41 years ago with his father, who was a migrant worker.
Schmerber said he has battled alcohol addiction for years.
“I became homeless in September 2009” due to addiction, he said. He lived two years at the New Community Shelter, but was removed from that shelter due to complications from his drinking. He moved in briefly with a friend and was told about St. John’s shelter. At first, he said, he was afraid to visit the shelter.
“I came here and I was scared, not knowing (what to expect),” he said. “I heard bad stories of St. John’s.”
Upon his arrival on Nov. 8, 2011, he was pleasantly surprised by the treatment he received.
“Man, it was like, ‘This is heaven. This is different,’” he said. Shelter staff sat down and listened to him.
“They helped me, comforted me, took time to listen to what I had on my chest,” said Schmerber. “Before, when I was drinking, it was me against the whole world. Now I’ve got people supporting me. Now I have an army backing me up. It builds your confidence.”
Schmerber has nothing but praise for the staff of St. John’s, from Angela Mihalko, program manager, who treated him with dignity when he told her about his struggles, to Alexia Wood, executive director, who he said is a tireless worker and defender of the homeless. “She doesn’t know when to quit.”
He said the Micah Center has helped him maintain his sobriety.
“I come here to just clear my mind and try to straighten my life out,” said Schmerber. “I’m closing in on 18 months of sobriety on Dec. 20 and it’s a place to clear my mind and try to think.”
Schmerber now coordinates St. John’s sobriety/stability room, where he and about 13 other men gather each morning and talk about making positive choices. “It’s kind of like an AA meeting,” he said.
Schmerber said St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter and the Micah Center have had a life-changing impact on him, noting that if he had not checked into the shelter in 2011, “I think I would be dead right now.”
He recalled the story a few years ago of another homeless man in Green Bay who died of exposure. “He pretty much drank himself to death and froze,” said Schmerber. “The amounts of alcohol I drank, I think if I was out in the cold I would have drank myself to death. … If somebody told me, ‘You’re going to be 18 months sober,’ I wouldn’t have believed them.”
Schmerber, who grew up Catholic, said his faith in God has helped him.
“I’ve gone to a couple of AA meetings but it’s not the thing for me,” he said. “I pray and talk to God. I think he’s the main one. He’s got some plan for me. I just don’t know what. I may not find the answers but maybe something will click.”
Schmberber is certain that whatever plan God has in store for him, St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter and the Micah Center will be part of it.
He hopes to find a job and get an apartment and the Micah Center will help him reach these goals. He has already received help writing a resume and cover letter. “But for now I want to concentrate on my sobriety. That’s my main important thing.”
The volunteer work he does at St. John’s gives him a chance to give back to the shelter, he said. “Maybe once January hits, I will start looking for a part-time job, reintroduce myself into the community.”