If a new funding stream does not materialize or a major benefactor does not step forward in the next three weeks, the shelter is prepared to close Sept. 10 and not reopen again for at least the remainder of 2011.
That was the dire news Debbie Zigler, executive director of the Greencastle Housing Authority (parent agency of A-Way Home), shared with the Banner Graphic.
"We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Zigler assessed. "If we somehow get money on Sept. 9, we will still be open Sept. 11."
Right now, however, neither Zigler nor Marge Smith, chairman of the Greencastle Housing Authority Board, realistically sees that happening.
In fact, they have informed the 13 residents currently staying at the shelter that they will need to make other arrangements before Sept. 10. Fortunately, one family of four is getting ready to move out and another mother and son were due to leave as well.
The shelter has averaged 15 or 16 people per day at the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week facility that opened in July 1996 in the remodeled former IGA/Red & White grocery store.
"Never once in 15 years has the shelter been empty," Zigler said, her voice cracking with emotion.
The shelter has seen as many as 35 occupants at one time or as few as two. Over its lifespan, it has housed more than 2,400 people.
"I was there at the conception of the idea," said Smith, a founding member of the local Housing Authority. "I was there at the birth of shelter, and I really don't want to be there for the burial. I could deal with it just going to the hospital but preferably only as an outpatient."
That figurative analogy fits with the plan likely to be executed this fall.
Baring any last-minute major donor emerging, the A-Way Home shelter will close Sept. 10, and remain that way for the last quarter of 2011. In the interim, regrouping and reorganizing efforts will take precedence, along with securing expanded funding sources. The plan would then be to reopen in 2012.
The shelter's financial situation essentially is a byproduct of the same hard times that have put many a resident in the facility at 309 E. Franklin St., Greencastle.
Federal funding cuts have curtailed the amount of money the Housing Authority receives, which in turn has tremendously impacted the A-Way Home budget. Additionally, funding received from the Putnam County United Way has seen "a significant drop," Zigler said.
Where United Way had been providing the shelter $21,000 four or five years ago, this year it was only able to give $9,000. Again, the current economic situation has adversely impacted agencies like the United Way, which in turn, has created shortfalls for non-profit facilities like the A-Way Home shelter.
"There is a misconception that we are a government agency, but we are not," Smith stressed.
The shelter's overall budget, including salaries (for one fulltime position and seven part-timers), insurance, maintenance, supplies and utilities is $127,000. Food is all donated through community efforts.
"People always want to get us something," Zigler noted. "The community is very generous in that respect, but what good is it if I have 100 rolls of toilet paper and I can't keep the doors open?"
The City of Greencastle has provided some annual funding in recent years, but the shelter does not receive any money from Putnam County.
Make no mistake, Zigler assures, the A-Way Home shelter is not a place where its residents really want to be.
"It's a place of last resort," she said. "People aren't standing in line to get in here. It is a vital service to this community.
"The sad thing is, you're looking at families who say this is the best place they have ever lived," Zigler added.
Yet they don't have anything close to free rein at the facility.
Residents are made accountable, must do chores and have to complete a weekly job search sheet. Every family unit is required to meet with the shelter manager once a week to discuss their status and their goals. The A-Way Home staff even connects residents with community resources to help return them to self-sufficient, tax-paying citizens.
Residents who have an income are asked to pay $5 per day individually or $7 per family. Asking them to pay more is impossible, knowing their very reason for residing at A-Way Home.
While acknowledging that any and all donations would help, Zigler said the closure plan will likely move forward unless at least $30,000 can be raised immediately. That would cover a loan the shelter had to take out with the Housing Authority in the past six months to stave off what now appears to be the inevitable closing.
"If every person in Putnam County would give just $1, we could eradicate that and start over," Zigler said hopefully.
She pointed out that it is rare to find a homeless shelter in a town the size of Greencastle. A-Way Home, in fact, is the only such shelter within 50 miles, Zigler added.
Domestic violence shelters are housed in Danville and Crawfordsville, she acknowledged. But that is another situation altogether.
"That doesn't help the man and woman with three kids or the single guys like we have here," she said.
While the closing on Sept. 10 seems likely at this point, what happens if homeless people need a place to stay before that time?
"We will take them in," Zigler assures, "and explain at intake that it's a temporary situation. We're not going to tell people not to come in at this point."
Anyone who wants to donate to the shelter or has any creative fundraising ideas is asked to contact Zigler at 653-8228.