Berrien County’s only women, family homeless shelter raises $100K for repairs

Published 12:54 pm Thursday, April 28, 2022

BERRIEN COUNTY — An area nonprofit’s fundraising efforts to repair Berrien County’s only women and family homeless shelter have paid off.

This week, Emergency Shelter Services, 185 E. Main St. Suite 103, Benton Harbor, announced its Love Your Shelter fundraising campaign raised more than $100,000. The campaign, which lasted through the month of February, aimed to raise $50,000 to cover necessary repairs to the shelter, including foundation work, plumbing, kitchen and bathroom updates and more.

According to ESS Permanent Supporting Housing Supervisor Alicia Coultas, the goal was doubled thanks to the generous donations of the community and a $4 for every $1 raised grant match from four local foundations — The Berrien Community Foundation, Hanson Family Foundation, Frederick S. Upton Foundation and Felland Fund.

“We’re very excited as an agency to have the community rally behind us in such a big way,” Coultas said. “Our goal for the fundraiser was $50,000 to address the wear and tear in our shelter but we doubled that, which is very exciting and a huge reason for that would be [the local foundations] for rallying alongside us to help us reach $100,000.”

According to Coultas, the building that houses the shelter, located at 645 Pipestone Street, Benton Harbor, was a three-story, nine-bedroom and five-bathroom house built in the 1870s donated to ESS by the J.N. Klock family in 1979. The house became a 28-bed facility where women and families receive support to move into stable housing.

“It’s very important that we make our shelter a home away from home while we help assist our clients with finding their permanent homes,” Coultas said. “That’s also why it’s so important for us to have raised this money to address the wear and tear of the shelter because we want to make sure that we address any issues that come up before they become bigger problems. We’re always trying to make sure that the shelter is comfortable for all of our clients.”

In 2008, ESS officially became Berrien County’s Housing Assessment and Resource Agency. The organization implements and manages strategic programs to prevent homelessness for women and families in Berrien County while also providing support and resources to help community members become self-sufficient.

“As the HARA for Berrien County, we assist the community with rapid rehousing services as well as services to prevent our clients from becoming homeless,” Coultas said. “We also have a resale store where 100 percent of the proceeds go to our shelter operations. We also assist some of our clients with free clothing and kitchenware vouchers when they move into their homes.”

Next year, ESS will be working with Benton Harbor-based Brookview Montessori School to provide two to five-year old children living in the shelter with a teacher. Part of the funds raised will go toward remodeling the shelter’s classroom to resume those classes.

ESS works with agencies around the county, including the Ferry Street Resource Center, 620 Ferry St., Niles, the City of Niles and the Southwest Michigan Communication Action Agency.

After witnessing firsthand the generosity of the community, Coultas said ESS plans to make the Love Your Shelter campaign an annual event.

“Right now, we’re focusing on the $100,000 that we have and trying to do as many projects as possible,” Coultas said. “Because of inflation, we underestimated how much money we would need to get all these projects done. We definitely know there’s gonna be a round two.”

Readers looking to donate to ESS can do so on Emergency Shelter Services’ Facebook page, online at, or by check made out to Emergency Shelter Services, Inc. mailed to 645 Pipestone St. Benton Harbor, MI 49022.

“Everyone is still encouraged to donate if they’re interested,” Coultas said. “We have a lot of projects we want to work on to better our shelter and our unrestricted funding to assist our clients in any way that we can.


Reshella Allen-Hawkins named ESS Executive Director


The ESS Board of Directors announced the appointment of Reshella Allen-Hawkins as Executive Director, according to a press release from the board. Allen-Hawkins has served the organization since 1998 and the board believes she has brought stability and a warm, welcoming atmosphere to the agency.

A Benton Harbor native and graduate, Allen-Hawkins attended Lake Michigan College where she majored in Early Childhood Education. After joining the ESS team in 1998, she began the role of administrative assistant where she grew to understand the need for affordable housing and resources for families experiencing housing insecurities.

“I appreciate the Board’s confidence in me and am grateful for the opportunity to lead such an amazing organization,” Allen-Hawkins said. “After serving for over twenty-three years, I’ve seen the resiliency within the agency. I truly believe that moving forward the best is yet to come.”

Allen-Hawkins’ dedication to the organization and community was recognized when she was presented with the Golden Acorn Award For Excellence on behalf of ESS. The Golden Acorn Award For Excellence is an annual award presented by the Berrien Community Foundation to an organization in recognition of its dedication and service to the Berrien County community it serves. 

The award, which includes a $4,000 grant, was presented to the nonprofit for its work with the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

“She has so much experience in the field, “Coultas said. “She’s been with Emergency Shelter Services for more than 20 years and to have somebody in this seat with that experience and passion working with our homeless population means a lot. She’s a great fit for this role.”