Yes, we’ve made a difference in the lives of homeless families in Brown County, Wisconsin, but we’ve also just scratched the surface. Every day we’ve been in operation – over 20 years– we’ve had a waiting list of people who need our help but can’t get it because we’re “at capacity.” In 2009, that waiting list was 10-12 families; our in town waiting list now hovers in the 70s and routinely spikes to over 80 families. The wait to get in to Freedom House has gone from 3-4 weeks to 3-4 months and our average length of stay is now 23 days longer than it was in 2007 – it just takes longer for people to find safe, affordable housing and sustainable employment.
We aren’t the only shelter in the area experiencing a growing “wait list,” and we knew we had to meet that challenge. We were instrumental in developing a new collaborative effort with other agencies serving the homeless called, Supporting Our Families Together, or SOFT.
The overall purpose of SOFT is to ensure that NO family spends the night on the streets due to being homeless, whether or not there is space to accommodate them in one of the six shelters serving Brown County. This is based on a very firm belief that no matter the cause, no one – particularly children who have no control over what parents do or don’t do – should be forced to spend the night on the streets or in a car, trying to weather the cold, harsh conditions that life in Northeastern Wisconsin brings year round.
Season 1 S.O.F.T Results: From October 2010 when SOFT was started until May 31, 2011, NOT ONE FAMILY seeking help at the Crisis Center was turned away – that’s a first! These are the people who make up our “waiting list” and in the past have often fallen through the cracks. But limited resources forced us to restrict the number of families we could serve in Season 2.
Season 2 S.O.F.T Results: We reopened the program mid-term in the 2011/2012 school year, but we had to limit the project to serving just 4 families at a time through the end of the school year. However, during that time frame, we were able to help another 25 families with 51 children and 35 adults; all of those families participated in case management and ultimately 22 of them found housing; just 3 needed longer term shelter in Freedom House.
Season 3 S.O.F.T Results: November, 2012 through June 15, 2013. Due to continued funding from the United Way, we were able to double the capacity of the program from 4 families to 8 families.