Restaurants fundraising for local homelessness assistance

Published 10:22 pm Monday, November 15, 2010

Four years ago a group of area agencies took on a huge goal — to end homelessness in Berrien County.

Alysia Babcock, executive director of the Benton Harbor Emergency Shelter, said that since the Housing Resource Network (HRN) wrote a 10-year plan to accomplish this goal, a lot of progress has been made.

And she is hoping a county-wide fundraiser during Homeless Awareness Week, which began Sunday, will continue the momentum.

Seven county businesses will be donating 10 percent of their customers’ bills to the Barrier Busters Fund, a county-wide fund that provides financial assistance to local families living in poverty.”The monies raised will be used for things grants usually don’t cover,” Babcock said. “IDs or birth certificates are hard to come by for somebody living in poverty.”

The funds can also be used to help families in poverty with bus tickets during a family crisis or gas money.

This is the first year the network has done such a fundraiser.

According to HRN, 100,001 people are homeless in Michigan, and 974 people lived in shelters in Berrien County this past year.

Despite the high numbers of people still living in poverty, HRN is making progress in the community.

“Just this year we prevented 250 families from becoming homeless,” Babcock said.

The success has come from a shift in how organizations approach the issue of homelessness, she said. The focus is now more on prevention.

“We completely changed how we address homeless issues,” she said. “We had people in shelters not doing anything to change their lives.”

Now the focus is on “education, job skills training and short-term rental assistance so people can work into self sufficiency,” Babcock said.

Getting people out of shelters and on the road to self-sufficiency is key.

“It costs $1,600 a month to keep someone homeless (in a shelter),” Babcock said. “It costs $816 per month to keep them in permanent supportive housing. Just do the math.”

This year, HRN has helped three previously homeless families become homeowners.

The fundraiser began last Wednesday at the Niles Pizza Hut and continues today at The Nuggett in downtown Niles and Wednesday at Mancino’s and Blueberry Hill in Niles.

Personal donations can be made out to Emergency Shelter Services Inc. (with memo to Barrier Busters Fund) and mailed to 645 Pipestone Benton Harbor, MI 49022.