“You feel down and at the end of your rope. Your place to
live disappeared along with your hope. I found smiles, friends,
advice and help to cope, but more than that, Shelter of Flint helps
you re-gain your hope for better days, brighter futures and a new
lease on life. I’m so glad I came here. It was heaven-sent.
At Shelter of Flint, there are no ends, only beginnings.”
Ivy – Shelter of Flint Client
Shelter of Flint Celebrates 35 years
On October 17, Shelter of Flint (SOF) celebrated its 35th anniversary at the Capitol Theatre. Over the years, it has provided thousands of Greater Flint’s homeless population with a place to heal and get a fresh start. SOF has helped low-income and homeless individuals and families achieve independence and stability. Across all of their programs, SOF currently serves more than 1,000 people each day.
According to Liz Ruediger, SOF Vice President of Operations, the Emergency Night Shelter for Women first opened its doors on February 1, 1983. It was located at the Holy Angel Convent near Downtown Flint, a joint effort of 15 agencies and organizations. In July 1983, under the new name Emergency Shelter for Women & Children, the facility continued to add services, with a strong emphasis on helping children. Following an increase in grant funding, services were expanded to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Thanks to the extremely generous donation of a building in 1991, the shelter moved to Delaware Street on Flint’s eastside. The shelter has been at its current location on Cedar Street since March 2013, when the Child Welfare Society of Flint gifted the former Cedar Street Children’s Center to SOF for use as the emergency shelter. “We were able to grow from 38 beds to 70-plus!” Ruediger exclaims, “and from 14,000 to 22,000 square feet.”
The Cedar Street property sits on five acres with a backyard and plenty of space for children to play. “It feels more like home,” says the vice president. The administrative offices also moved to the Cedar Street location. SOF gifted the Delaware Street building to the Flint Eastside Mission and rented their administrative office building to Priority Children – the organization previously located at the Cedar Street property.
The Emergency Shelter can house 70 people or more each night, Ruediger reports, and it is filled to capacity each night by those living below the poverty level, facing unemployment, eviction, and other barriers to safe and affordable housing. It has expanded to include: male single parents, two-parent households, and couples. The shelter does not house single men, as there are other facilities in the area that accommodate them, Ruediger adds. There is often a waiting list to get into the shelter, as the homeless population in the area is large. “Typically, the shelter is full every night,” she shares.
According to the vice president, housing is the most basic of needs that plays a role in family well-being. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to live in safe, affordable housing,” she says. And SOF is not just a shelter. “Our goal is for our clients to find safe, affordable and sustainable housing.”
“Our goal is for our clients to find safe,
affordable and sustainable housing.”
Liz Ruediger, Vice President of Operations
The stay for an individual or family is 30 days, but can be extended to 45, 60 or even 90 days, if needed. “Throughout that stay, we work with families and individuals to resolve the issues that brought about their homelessness, and develop a long-range plan toward permanent stability,” Ruediger says. “Our comprehensive approach to combating homelessness is intended to connect families with the resources they need to obtain and maintain permanent housing.”
Those staying in the Emergency Shelter do not have to leave during the days, as is the requirement at other shelters. “During the first 24 hours, individuals and families have the ability to just take a deep breath and know that they have a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep in and three meals a day,” says Ruediger. “There is safety, security and support here.”
Ruediger adds that the shelter can truly serve anyone, and that it is also very important to keep families together there. “In a crisis situation, family members need to be able to stay together,” she asserts. “They might be sharing a room with someone else, but keeping a family together is one of the rules.”
Some of the homeless population choose not to come into the shelter, says Ruediger. “We see people out in the streets every day who choose to find shelter in an abandoned home or parking garage,” she admits. “And there are a number of reasons why they choose to do so. Being around other people can be overwhelming and we have rules here – and a curfew. There has to be structure. Some people are just not suited for communal living.” SOF offers help to those on the streets through their Homeless Outreach program.
For 35 years, Shelter of Flint has helped the community move closer to the goal of significantly reducing homelessness by helping families stay together in sustainable housing, learn to take responsibility for their finances by living within their means, and maintain or increase their income by going to work, finding a job, or learning to budget their available resources.
“We can’t do what we do without the support of the community,” Ruediger admits. “From providing financial assistance to raking leaves, the community has strived to help those who are most vulnerable.”
Other SOF Programs & Services
Sixty percent of those who stay at SOF are children, and many of these special shelter residents are too young to understand why they are there, but they are old enough to be scared, worried and unsure about their future. The Caterpillar Clubhouse children’s program provides these kids with the tools they need to be successful, both educationally and socially.
Permanent Supportive Housing
SOF offers rental assistance to people with disabilities, who could not otherwise find or afford independent living conditions. Supportive case management services help individuals and families sustain financial accountability and a connection with the community resources they need to remain self-sufficient.
One Stop Housing Resource Center
One Stop strives to eliminate barriers by providing services that meet the needs of the individual and family, and enhances the community safety-net by placing service providers in one easily accessible location. One Stop programming also includes Homeless Outreach, which serves a critical role in the community as a point of entry into homeless services.
Photography by Kayce McClure