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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinDecember 14, 2007 Issue 

Volunteers step forward to assist at homeless shelter

Training sessions held; volunteers jump at chance to assist shelter

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

Past articles:

from November 30, 2007 issue:
Catholic cemetery donates part of sales to shelter
    St. John homeless shelter to receive 2 percent of pre-need
    sales in December

from November 23, 2007 issue:
Programs to benefit shelter visitors
    Victory in Life, Adullam House seek to offer assistance
    to guests at St. John Evangelist Homeless Shelter
    Sidebar: Volunteers needed

Green Bay mayor spends night at St. John homeless shelter
    Mayor Jim Schmitt volunteers at shelter, visits with
    homeless guests
    Sidebar: Shelter seeks donations

from November 16, 2007 issue:
Shelter gets preliminary approval

Shelter seeks volunteers, donations

• Editorial -- Give them shelter
    Church, society have moral obligation to provide shelter
    to all homeless

from November 9, 2007 issue:
• Front-page photo: Shack-a-Thon at St. Norbert College

Homeless shelter opens
    Diocese supports plans to open shelter at local church

Hunger, homelessness in spotlight
    National Hunger, Homelessness Awareness Week
    is Nov. 11-17

from October 26, 2007 issue:
On Nov. 1, where will Green Bay homeless go?
    City plan for most marginalized may not happen,
    but church hospitality center ready

from September 28, 2007 issue:
Alternative to COTS homeless shelter in works
    Green Bay's New Community Shelter in mix,
    advises patience

from August 31, 2007 issue:
Green Bay nixes winter shelter at church
    COTS offered a place to sleep to people
    who couldn't go to city's other shelters

• Bridging the Gap by Bishop David Zubik --
    A scraped knee and beyond
    Emergency shelter in downtown
    is all about caring for each other

GREEN BAY -- Serving food, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and taking out garbage are not how most people envision retirement, but "It's great for me," said Bob Gruesen of Green Bay.

Gruesen is one of many area residents who volunteer at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, which opened Nov. 6 on the city's east side. The shelter operates from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. for men and women in need.

"I retired very early. I retired too soon, so I have extra time on my hands," said Gruesen, while working a volunteer shift Dec. 4. "I became aware of the problem we have in this country over the past two to three years, when I was out in California. I was in Sacramento and I saw a lot of homeless people out there. I moved back to town and was troubled by the problems here."

Gruesen called Laura Robinson, volunteer coordinator for the shelter, the week it opened.

"I wanted to get involved," he said. "I come three times a week. There are great people that work here and great people that use the facility. Everybody is very polite. Through no fault of their own, life turns the wrong way and before they know it, they are out of a home. It feels good to come here and lend some of my time. I do whatever is needed."

Robinson, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish, continues to receive calls from people offering their services.

"The response has just been incredible," she said. "With all the negativity about opening the shelter, the response has been ten-fold of people calling to say 'I don't like what I'm hearing. I want to show that we are a caring community.'"

Volunteers must complete a training session. People of various ages and backgrounds have stepped forward, said Robinson.

"We have people who have been at the shelter in the past," she said. "They appreciate how much people have helped them and they want to do the same. We all volunteer in a sense out of the need to want to help others. It's nice that all our needs come together."

Fay and Ken Jensen, members of Peace Lutheran Church, joined the cause after seeing opposition from the City Council on television.

"The idea that this place wasn't going to be open to these people was a scary situation," said Fay. "I usually come in the morning to do breakfasts. All the people here are fantastic. This morning, we were dancing with them and goofing off."

"When you talk to some of the guys here, you understand some of their needs," said Ken. "Some have mental illness and need help. There is no place for them to go."

In addition to providing people a warm place to sleep, dinner and breakfast and shower facilities, shelter workers collect data to help determine why people in Green Bay are homeless.

Mary Marks, director of social services and community outreach for the St. Vincent dePaul Society and executive director of the shelter, submits information to Wisconsin Service Point, a statewide data base.

"We've served quite a few people so far," she said. "Thirty-four fit the definition of chronic homelessness. That means they have been homeless a specific number of times and for a certain length of time, as defined by HUD (Housing and Urban Development)."

Other figures reported on Nov. 27 include:

  • 70 individuals served (unduplicated);

  • 12 veterans;

  • A wide range of ethnicity with a majority being Caucasian;

  • 46 disabled;

  • 27 mentally ill;

  • 27 alcohol abuse issues;

  • 27 drug abuse issues;

  • 23 with physical disabilities.

"We also break down where they were living prior to coming to the shelter," said Marks. "Most were in cars, on the streets, under bridges. Others were doubled up with friends and relatives. Many were staying with people who are putting their own housing at risk by having people stay with them."

Marks commends the dedication of the volunteers.

"There is a lot of gratitude that's expressed," she said. "Our guests let our volunteers know how much it means to them to be treated with dignity and respect. A lot of volunteers not only serve food and do other jobs, but also play a game of cribbage with the guests or lend an ear if someone is struggling. It's a blessing to have so many wonderful people give their time."

Progress has been made, but it's a slow process, Marks added.

"I have intentionally been here long hours myself to garner trust and to be in relationship with the people," she said. "On April 15, we don't want 25 people here with no place to go, and hopefully, they won't be back next year. We have had some success.

"There are people getting attached to longer-term housing and services," she added. "We will continue to make small steps. This is a group that comes from a lot of broken trust, a lot of failure, addictions and mental illness, but we are seeing the fruition of our efforts."

The shelter is doing well in number of volunteers, said Robinson. She also encourages those who want to provide assistance to consider donating items.

"I've got the best job," she said. "I get to meet all these great people who want to help the community. They are coming forward because we cannot ignore this problem."

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