About 20 advocates for the homeless population in St. Clair County gathered behind the courthouse on Monday to exchange ideas, phone numbers and stories about their work.
Belleville has not had a homeless shelter since 2009, but James Kellerman, a board member of the St. Clair County Homeless Action Council, thought member organizations have made some progress in the past year.
Now there is a hotline for services, which directs callers to specific agencies so they can be helped immediately instead of trying to guess which agencies would be most helpful.
Coming online in July 2015, the number, 618-825-3330, can “point (people) in the right direction and really cut down on the frustration of the homeless person or the person in crisis.”
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Kellerman said the committee is also trying to rethink shelters and consider focusing on rapid rehousing, or providing people with apartments for 12 to 18 months so they can “stabilize their environment,” including finding employment, counseling and a case worker. He mentioned that research shows rapid rehousing could be the route the federal government will take in the future, but that doesn’t mean the committee will stop pushing for a shelter.
“In a lot of cases, you’re dealing with a lot of hardships, from mental illness to addiction,” he said, and shelters provide a point of contact for the homeless to get personalized assistance.
Homelessness is an epidemic in Belleville.
Pastor Ralph Holmes of Redeemer House of Worship
In 2015, the Homeless Action Council estimated that its members served 1,200 homeless people in 2015.
This year’s Homeless Point In Time Count, in which homeless organizations try to count the number of clients on one day, put their population at 100 who “remain on the streets,” and 26 percent of households “reported being homeless for one year or more.”
“Homelessness is an epidemic in Belleville,” said Pastor Ralph Holmes of Redeemer House of Worship, near Emge Junior High School.
But there are more people than just the homeless who need extra help.
Redeemer hosts a warming and cooling shelter that it opens to about 50 to 70 people when the temperatures reach certain points during the year. Holmes said that many elderly people also come by in order to save on heating and cooling bills.
Many people who are not homeless also need food assistance.
“We have found that the more food we get, the more people are coming,” said Jeanne Edgar of Community Interfaith Food Pantry.
Monday’s event, which was organized by the Church Women United, a national group founded in 1945, competed for attention with the hubbub of loud vehicles and pedestrians, but Jesse Arms, who also helped bring people together, said that it was harder to be heard by the wealthy.
She and other homeless advocates are currently writing a draft of a proposal to build a homeless shelter in Belleville. They estimate it will cost about $300,000 and have not started fundraising yet.
Although the individual speeches were difficult to hear without the aid of a blow horn or speaker, at the end, everyone sang “Amazing Grace,” which carried beyond the bottom of the courthouse steps.
The attendees remarked that the weather was a perfect time to hold a rally, but, as Naomi Davidson, the president of Church Women United, pointed out at the top of the bill, it isn’t always like this.