The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 15, 2014

Forum produces multiple-front approach to seeking Pittsburg shelter solution

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Within a five-day period last year, both Shanae Estes and her husband say, they lost their jobs. Then, in early December, they lost their home.

Without friends or relatives to turn to, they began searching for a place to stay with their six children.

On Dec. 4, the family moved into the Choices Family Emergency Shelter in Pittsburg, where they not only have a warm place to sleep, Estes said, but are offered guidance on how to get their lives back in order.

“We’re not homeless by choice,” she said. “It was something out of our control.”

The shelter is facing budget cuts that could mean its services will no longer be available come April. More than 50 area residents attended a public forum Wednesday to discuss options for keeping the shelter going.

Last fall, officials with the Southeast Kansas Community Action Partnership reported that the shelter’s future was in jeopardy. The Kansas Housing Resources Corp. proposed cutting the region’s Community Services Block Grant funding, which would take effect April 1.

SEK-CAP annually receives about $743,000 for various programs for low-income residents, and the cuts, depending on variables, could be between $371,000 and $396,000.

The shelter also sees almost $200,000 in local donations annually, but it continually faces a shortfall.

Given the uncertainty of both sources of funding, officials have said the shelter might have to be closed.

During the two-hour forum, participants offered dozens of ideas for keeping the site open, such as turning the shelter into a volunteer-operated center or using an interagency collaboration to operate it, but no specific plan was readily available for what should be done.

Instead of continuing the discussion as a large group, those in attendance decided to break into four committees: interagency collaboration, which would involve multiple human resources organizations; fundraising; staffing; and a possible partnership with Pittsburg State University.

Committee members will schedule meetings and are hoping to implement a plan by early March to keep the shelter open.

Jami Crowder, who has managed the shelter since it opened, said she thinks the forum went well and provided hope.

“It makes you feel good to know that your community is behind your struggles,” she said.

Crowder, who will be serving on the staffing committee, said she likes the idea of shelter residents possibly serving as staff members when needed.

“I think it could be a real beneficial thing,” she said. “I also can see how being given that opportunity as a shelter resident could really help to build confidence and perhaps even give them some marketable skills that they could use on a resume.”

Becky Gray, director of grants and development for SEK-CAP, said she was encouraged by the amount of community support and the creative solutions people offered.

“The committees are a wonderful way to keep those creative, innovative ideas going, and to keep broader community involvement going,” Gray said. “I’m excited to hear about what the committees come up with.”

Meanwhile, Mark Estes has a new job, and members of the family are looking forward to what the future holds for them. Each family is allowed to stay at the shelter for 90 days, and Shanae Estes said she appreciates the home environment.

“It would be so sad if it closed,” she said.



Background

THE SHELTER OPENED IN 2007 under the direction of the Southeast Kansas Community Action Partnership. It annually serves more than 300 families with children from a multicounty area that includes Cherokee and Crawford counties. It employs two full-time and seven part-time staff members.

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