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A-Way Home shelter expected to close its doors Sept. 10

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The A-Way Home shelter, 309 E. Franklin St., Greencastle, will close Sept. 10 for at least the rest of 2011 if new funding sources cannot be found to cover operations costs at the facility, which opened in July 1996.
After 15 years of providing shelter to the homeless and others in need in Putnam County, the A-Way Home shelter finds itself in the midst of its own crisis.

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.

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I am wondering about the sentence: FOOD IS ALL DONATED THROUGH COMMUNITY EFFORTS. Why do they turn down donations from many who have asked about donating some extra cans, boxed and bread. We have been told "We do not want it." i would like some answers.

I was on the board when it started and it is not now set up as it was when it first opened. Yes, we do need a place such as this but need it to return to the original stated use.

-- Posted by goodthoughts on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 7:25 AM

$10,000 a month to operate seems pretty high to me.

-- Posted by exhoosier2 on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 8:36 AM

They pay someone to mow the grass. I am sure they have helped some need folks but I live just down the street and see tons of men and women smoking and drinking mountain dew across the street and all around neighborhood. Seems like most of them are single men not from the area anyway. I think there are better ways to help people than this shelter.

-- Posted by hardtobelieve on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 8:55 AM

Ok maybe none of you people so far have had to be homeless,Sleep in the cold,have you kids cry cause they are hungry..By the grace of God I never have either .But I do no a family that is livening with someone that needs a home and is out every day looking for work. They have 3 boys one of witch is very handicapped and in a wheelchair. The people they our staying with is now suffering with paying their bills due to the fact they are older and can not work. But still they help someone in need..Why do you all have to put negative stuff on here instead of trying to come up with something that would help...To Zigler.. Maybe you could set up a flea market type thing and rent table's out or get donations for one big yard sale...

-- Posted by Sour Grapes on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 11:21 AM

I was not going to respond to the heartless comments about this,but then I read the last three,and I am so mad my blood is boiling!First of all,goodthoughts,I think that with you being on the board when it started,you could answer your own question regarding donations.

exhoosier2...You have got to be kidding!! How much do you think it should take to operate? Are you saying YOU could operate a place of business on just 10,000.00? If that comment wasn't so ridiculous,I could almost find myself laughing at it!

hardtobelieve: The person that mows the grass also takes care of the repairs in and around the shelter,and the housing authority and also many, if not all of the housing authorities rental properties. Would you rather the grass just grow and the place become infested with who knows what? As for the 'tons' of men and women you say you 'see smoking and drinking mountain dew across the street and all around the neighborhood',who are you to judge? Are you completely positive that they are all from the shelter? Or are you just assuming? And how in the world do you know that 'most of them seem to be single men not from around the area?' Do you know every single person living in Greencastle? What better ways do you think there are to help people than the shelter? I certainly hope that you don't ever find yourself in the position to one day need help like the shelter gives,but maybe just maybe if you did, you would not be so quick to judge them. Walk a mile in their shoes, live the difficulties they face everyday,know what its like to not have anywhere to go, feeling helpless, and most times scared,and not knowing when or if a job will come,so that they may be able to get back out there and start to rebuild their lives. The A Way Home Shelter is a blessing in disguise for many people and as a community we should all pull together,businesses,and individuals, and do what ever needs to be done to help the shelter and help keep it open!

-- Posted by churchmouse on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 12:14 PM

And before any one makes a comment about me not knowing how it feels....I DO! I have called the A Way Home Shelter home once. I stayed there with my young child. I was once one of them. I know what it all feels like, and I never want to have to go through it again. I have no complaints about the shelter itself, it was fine and the people who worked there were really nice and understanding,but its the fear of not knowing what is going to happen,wondering if you will ever find work, and scared out of your mind that since you are homeless, your child will be taken from you. I lived that fear every day that I was there. Debbie Zigler is a wonderful woman. She knew I was scared, and assured me that nothing would happen to myself or my child. She helped me believe in me again, and helped me realize that everyone goes through hard times,but with help you get through those times, and pick yourself up and start your life over, the best way you can.She can never know the impact she had on me,and how thankful I am that she was there to help me through that.

-- Posted by churchmouse on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 12:31 PM

Well, here are your choices.

1. Help fund the shelter so the folks have a place to lay thier heads at night.

2. Give them money when they stand on the street corners with "Please Help" signs.

3. Watch the crime rate go up because people have to eat. (not that any of the people would resort to that but it happens)

4. Take a family into your own home and care for them until they can get on their feet.

There will always be people in need and now that we have torn down the county home, there is no where else for them to go. It's your choice and I chose number 1.

-- Posted by BbridgeJC on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 12:32 PM

...so sad. I am from a much bigger town, and was totally amazed Greencastle had this wonderful shelter, when I first moved here. It was a very good impression of the town, to see this compassion.

Working in social service in the community, I know how much the shelter did/does for those in true need, and how positive the effect is on all in the community. Times are getting tougher, the shelter is needed more than ever.

-- Posted by Sputty on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 10:01 PM

Well churchmouse, I would guess you have never operated a small business yourself. I can assure you there are many small businesses around this country that have operational costs of less than $10,000.00 a month. There was little concern when the county home closed and its residents put on the street was there? Perhaps the money derived from the selling of the acreage of the county home could be used for the shelter. So having benefited from the generosity of others by virtue of your stay at the shelter, you are doing all you can to see it stays open?

-- Posted by exhoosier2 on Thu, Aug 25, 2011, at 8:22 AM

exhoosier2 perhaps you should offer your expetise. Since you said said $10,000.00 a month is to much. By my calculation A-Way Home was open and staffed 8760 hours last year (365 X 24). At $127,000 per year that works out to about $14.50 per hour. That seems awfully cheap to me. If you can operate a staffed facility, pay insurance, utilities, maintenance and so forth for less than $14.50 per hour please show them (and us)how.

-- Posted by citizenx on Thu, Aug 25, 2011, at 2:45 PM

It would be nice if it were truly a service to Putnam County residents. Problem is we have become a dumping ground from surrounding communities in central Indiana, who tend to direct their people to the A-way Home Shelter.

True, they do occasionally help familes in need, but for the most part the tenants are from nowhere near here.

-- Posted by ProblemTransmission on Fri, Aug 26, 2011, at 1:58 AM

Wow, that is right lets allow something else that is vital to our community shut down. The BS repairs happening on Bloomington st would have more than funded the shelter to stay open. Now where do you suppose the homeless stay? Get ready for crime to go up..."Well we don't have any where to go, let's go to jail." So now more tax money can be wasted to house another person who really had no reason to go to jail, except because they were hungry and cold. This is ridiculous. There is no reason some of that "new found grant money" could not have trickled down to the shelter. Perhaps the director is driving a range rover... maybe she is pulliing a tammy wade over there. This is so sad... so so so so sad.

-- Posted by BlackBarbie22 on Fri, Aug 26, 2011, at 8:26 AM

Its more of our Govenors cut back on the state budget, in order to make a name for himself. Republicans would put the poor out in the streets or under them if they had the chance, oh wait they are! Cut all programs to help the poor but not tax the rich. Makes me sick,,,,,

-- Posted by BTruth1958 on Fri, Aug 26, 2011, at 9:30 AM

I'm amazed that all of the comments focus on what's wrong - the county, the city, the politicians, the costs of operations, the surrounding counties, we're not big enough to afford a shelter, the hint of embezzleing, etc, etc. Where is someone suggesting or offering to organize a way to raise this money privately to keep the doors open? Why does the government have to be the solution to all problems? Grants are not a solution because they take time and they add to the national/state/county/city/taxpayer debt! I, for one, will gladly make a donation or support a fundraiser if I believe there is a chance it will keep these doors open. It's time everyone else that commented be willing to offer the same. How about it Banner-Graphic, can you offer assistance in advertising this effort? We have enough churches in this community that $30,000 should not be that difficult amount to raise. How about it churches - you've got less than 2 weeks to get something organized.

-- Posted by gunner on Fri, Aug 26, 2011, at 1:02 PM

I don't know Debbie Ziegler or Marge Smith, but I believe they are working for a common good. Here's my offer of the first $100 to get this started. Someone now has to take up the challenge and make it happen. Are there any takers out there - or am I the only one that feels this way?

-- Posted by gunner on Fri, Aug 26, 2011, at 1:07 PM

A lot of people are strapped helping their own families in these tough times. Price of gas-prices of food going up-health insurance going out sight for people working-the list goes on. I have a very good job and help goes to those close to me-it's not going to get any better for donations for some time-donations in the churches have also gone down.

-- Posted by bam on Fri, Aug 26, 2011, at 6:50 PM

I as a single mother of small children I had to myself last year stay at the shelter. I truly believe that a serious investigation needs to be done regarding the management of this facility. I know that there is very little food there for most to eat that have nothing. What monies they had were used to pitch in to feed each other. This happened daily!! Rarely any meat provided outside of a couple packages of frost bitten hamburger. There are no community services that this shelter provides outside of a place to lay your head and I had to pay to stay there since I was employed full time. There is absolutely no way that this place costs 10000.00 a month to stay open. It just seems that no one is accountable for this place. Where does the money go that does come in?? Definitely doesn't benefit the residents. This so called "Board of Directors" have probably never ever even been in the facility. I was there for almost 3 months before I was able to get myself and chilren established. They did have board meetings in the housing authority offices, only a wall seperating everyone. They all showed up in their fancy cars, nice clothes and never ever spoke to anyone that stayed in that shelter. Every person in that shelter was told they had to be quiet as to not upset the board members during this meeting. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! Arrogant. Most of the items such as toiletries, food and clothing are donated. Ok they have an electric bill, pay the part-time workers. As for the grass, buy a cheap mower and make it one of the chores the residents have to do, absolutely no need to hire someone. I know that if these homeless people were animals in this county they would get the community support that is warranted.

-- Posted by sunflower4 on Sun, Aug 28, 2011, at 9:00 AM

In my not so humble opinion, this shelter was mismanaged from the beginning. It should have been an opportunity for people who were down on their luck to get a helping hand for a short time, and offer the resources to help those people get back to work and supporting themselves again. There were some who used their time at the shelter appropriately, and are now productive members of the community. Most, however, only used the shelter as a stopover in their travels from one flophouse to another.

Simply drug testing incoming residents and checking recent criminal histories would have eliminated a good part of this, and having job fairs at least twice weekly with mandatory attendance would have quickly eliminated those unemployed who had no desire to become self-sufficient. Help with GED classes, basic money and time management, resume writing, typing or labor skills would have been just as helpful as a bed and food.

Give a man a fish, you've fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you've fed him for a lifetime.

-- Posted by Clovertucky on Mon, Aug 29, 2011, at 7:47 PM

Should have kept the county home going and closed the shelter then.

-- Posted by bam on Thu, Sep 1, 2011, at 10:58 AM

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