The holiday season is a very happy time for most of us. We are able to visit with family and friends, attend holiday gatherings and special events and, of course, indulge in those wonderful Christmas cookies and other treats. But, think what your holidays would be like if you were homeless.
Being homeless anytime must be so hard, but being homeless during the winter would be horrible. Having no place to stay during cold weather is not just a matter of being uncomfortable, but can be life threatening for the homeless person or family. That is why I am very pleased that the Fort Wayne Area Planning Council on Homelessness is in the process of formulating plans to assist our homeless residents with finding places to stay during cold and inclement weather.
The Emergency Shelter Plan that the Council on Homelessness is developing will go into effect each day the temperature is 30 degrees or below or during an ice storm or blizzard. Many social service agencies, including Wayne Township, are partnering in carrying out the Emergency Shelter Plan. The partner agencies are involved in both planning and in providing services to homeless individuals and families who need the help.
Our Supervisor of Intake and Investigations, Michael DePew, is the Wayne Township representative on the Council, and the Chair is Marcy Yoder of United Way of Allen County. According to the Emergency Shelter Plan, the first step for persons needing shelter in bad weather is for them to call 211. United Way sponsors 211, which is a free and confidential 24-hour referral service to help persons find needed social services.
The counselors at 211 will have information about where emergency shelter beds are available and which facility would be appropriate for the particular client. For example, one shelter might be able to accommodate homeless families, while homeless men would be directed to a different shelter and homeless women to a third location. Where the homeless clients can stay in bad weather always is dependent on available space at the shelters and needs of the clients. So, Ms. Yoder emphasized that clients need to call 211 first to be referred to the correct facility for that client.
The next step, and the step in which Wayne Township has an integral role, is transporting those in need to the shelters 211 identifies. Many homeless individuals will not have a way to get to places where they can stay, especially at night. Wayne Township has volunteered to assist with transporting the homeless persons and families. I always have been concerned about the safety of homeless persons and am relieved that for the first time local agencies have cooperated to put a plan in place to help homeless persons through the cold, winter months.
Another project of our office this Christmas season is to help as many clients as we can with gifts for their children and families. We are doing this through cooperation with the Christmas Bureau. We give the Christmas Bureau the names of clients in need, and the Christmas Bureau makes the final determination regarding which clients meet the Bureau’s criteria for help. The Christmas Bureau handles obtaining the gifts and we pick up the gifts and distribute them to the families. It takes our staff and helpers more than three days to complete the distribution, but it is a job they are happy to perform.
I hope many of you were able to enjoy the Christmas in Waynedale celebration last weekend. The Waynedale Community Improvement Team continues to work to provide events to bring the Waynedale community together and to ensure that Waynedale remains a great place to live.
I wish everyone in the Waynedale area a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Richard A. Stevenson, Sr.
Wayne Township Trustee