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Published: Monday, 8/29/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

WOMEN IN NEED OF HELP

Local homeless shelters confront higher numbers

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Julie Geesey is a resident at the Sparrow’s Nest, a Cherry Street Mission Ministries shelter with 61 beds. The facility is seeing an 18 percent increase in women staying in the shelter from a year ago. Julie Geesey is a resident at the Sparrow’s Nest, a Cherry Street Mission Ministries shelter with 61 beds. The facility is seeing an 18 percent increase in women staying in the shelter from a year ago.
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Julie Geesey has stayed at Sparrow’s Nest women’s shelter for more than three months, and it could be another three months before the 47-year-old is able to get permanent housing.

Not only does Ms. Geesey have a place to sleep at the shelter, which turns no woman away and has no time limit. But staff is working with the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority to find a place she can afford on her Social Security disability benefits.

“I had no other place to go, and I wanted to get on my feet,” said Ms. Geesey, adding that otherwise, “I’d probably just be living on the streets or staying under the bridge.”

Ms. Geesey was one of 75 women who woke up Friday at Sparrow’s Nest, a Cherry Street Mission Ministries shelter with 61 beds. A week earlier, Sparrow’s Nest and The Oaks, Cherry Street Mission’s 22-bed shelter for women, had a record 98 women staying in their shelters, an 18 percent increase from a year ago.

And with winter coming, and women already sleeping on the floor and cots at Sparrow’s Nest, Cherry Street Mission is working to increase the available beds at both women’s shelters to 115, said Dan Rogers, the organization’s president and chief executive.

“This is August — usually we do not break records until October and February,” Mr. Rogers said of the shelter’s busiest months.

Other shelters in Toledo also are experiencing an increase in demand as the economy in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan continues to stumble.

At Family House, a northwest Ohio family shelter with 103 beds, the staff gets 15 calls a day from those looking for help. Some are sleeping in cars or even in a tent, and they are trying to get stabilized as school starts, said Renee Palacios, executive director of Family House.

Not only have calls increased, but “these families are more destitute,” Ms. Palacios said.

Patricia Burkhard of Toledo has been a resident in the Sparrow’s Nest, a women’s shelter run by the Cherry Street Mission Ministries, for a week. Patricia Burkhard of Toledo has been a resident in the Sparrow’s Nest, a women’s shelter run by the Cherry Street Mission Ministries, for a week.
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Beach House Family Shelter houses both single women and families and provides rent assistance to prevent homelessness. Demand for the shelter’s seven bedrooms, including one with four beds for single women, continues to rise, said Tammy Holder, Beach House executive director.

“It’s just getting worse,” Ms. Holder said. “The economy is getting better in some areas, but the homeless issue in our area has not.”

Typically women are the last demographic group to be revealed as homeless because relatives or friends are more likely to let them sleep on couches or in extra bedrooms than men, Mr. Rogers of Cherry Street said. The organization also houses 152 men a night on average at the Cherry Street Mission, up 4 to 6 percent from a year ago, he said.

As relatives lose their jobs or homes to foreclosure, they can no longer afford to let those homeless women stay with them, Mr. Rogers said. So now they need to seek shelter at places such as Sparrow’s Nest and The Oaks, he said.

“They’ve always been homeless,” Mr. Rogers said. “They’ve been sheltered by the economy.”

The influx of women at Sparrow’s Nest, meanwhile, is straining more than physical space at the shelter. Toiletries, feminine hygiene products, and other nonperishable items are in need and can be donated at Cherry Street’s LifeBridge Community Center, 3342 Monroe St.

This is the first time Ms. Geesey has ever stayed at a shelter, where she volunteers in the office, participates in activities, and gets assistance from staff.

She had been staying with her fiance before a recent hospitalization, and a nurse told her about Sparrow’s Nest, Ms. Geesey said.

“I have some people I hang out with,” she said. “They give me a lot of encouragement.”

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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