Originally, staff at CHOICES Emergency Shelter planned to put a community garden in near the shelter and to coordinate the project and a cookout lunch with the United Way Day of Action.
The garden didn’t work out for Friday, but the day turned into something bigger as the general public was invited into CHOICES for an open house.
Typically, the front offices are the farthest non-residents are permitted, but on Friday staff was on hand to show visitors the public areas of the shelter and to talk about what the is provided there through SEK-CAP.
Shelter manager Jami Crowder said the inside may be very different than what people might imagine.
“We wanted people to know basically what we do,” Crowder said. “We’ve been looking forward to having the opportunity.
The main part of the building features a community dining, entertainment and kitchen area, where residents eat cook and eat their meals and can watch television or spend time as a community.
The shelter also has 12 private family rooms, with each holding up to six people, bring shelter capacity to 12 families or 72 individuals.
“We provide all the linens, dishes, etc. for families while they’re here,” Crowder said.
During a stay, which can be for a maximum of 90 days, Crowder said those in the shelter can work on a number of skills.
“While they’re here, we’re going to work with them on case management,” she said, adding that that can range from emergency services and referrals for food and clothes, employment, educational or skills training, bringing old situations with landlords or utility vendors into compliance, budgets, transportation and more.
She said the case management is done by staff, but the shelter also works closely with law enforcement, churches and other organizations with services in the community.
“I’ve been really impressed by the cooperative spirit,” she said of the Pittsburg and Southeast Kansas communities.
Crowder said families can find themselves at CHOICES in a number of ways.
Page 2 of 2 - “They’re referred to us by law enforcement or any of your emergency personnel,” she said, adding that referrals also are made by churches, the Department of Children and Families, through United Way and via the Kansas Homeless Web site.
“It’s for anyone who happens to find themselves homeless,” she said.
While SEK-CAP serves 12 counties in Southeast Kansas, the shelter in Pittsburg is the only shelter the organization provides.
“This is the only homeless shelter we have every had,” Crowder said.
CHOICES is a busy place, with 24/7 staffing and generally a full slate of residents, but Crowder said staff also is glad to serve as a resource, even when the local shelter is full.
“Even if someone doesn’t qualify for our services, we encourage them to call anyway, because we have a large network,” she said.
While CHOICES was built with a Community Development Block Grant and services are funded through Community Service Block Grants, Crowder said donations of time, funds and supplies are always needed, and the open house was offered to raise awareness.
“A lot of it is community awareness,” she said. “So people are aware that we’re here and what we do.”