A Shelter for the Homeless—Yes, It’s Essential

A Shelter for the Homeless—Yes, It’s Essential

By Anna Ferraro

In a year when many organizations have been arbitrarily deciding which occupations and events are “essential,” it’s been good to evaluate these things as individuals. For just a moment, put yourself in the place of a homeless person — you have no house, no bed, and no guarantee of your next meal.

While those of us with loving families, warm homes, and stable jobs might question these circumstances and walk on by, the fact is, these circumstances exist within blocks of homes. And real people with real feelings and real futures are in these circumstances. To speak directly, it’s not right for us to just walk on by when fellow humans are in need. So, for this moment, instead of turning the page and skimming ads, I encourage you to continue reading on how you can make a difference in Jacksonville this winter.

Earlier this year, Alan Bradish, the current volunteer chaplain of the Jacksonville Police Department (JPD) took it upon himself to make sure that the homeless of Jacksonville have overnight accommodations through the winter, especially amid COVID-19 circumstances.

Due to COVID-19, the New Directions Heating and Cooling Center has been closed since April. Since then, Bradish has been scouring Jacksonville for potential new locations, considering everything from buildings on the MacMurray College campus to the old Shopko building. By fall, he had narrowed his search to downtown. But piles of paperwork, preferences and city codes later, downtown closed off as well in early November. With that, Bradish was still without a building, and winter was closing in. In mid-November, Mayor Ezard and Morgan County Emergency Manager Phil McCarty stepped up to the plate to make this shelter happen.

On Monday morning, November 23, Bradish held the completed lease papers and the keys to Jacksonville’s new TEOSA—Temporary Emergency Overnight Shelter Association, now located on 948 N. Main St.

With his framework for the TEOSA in place, Bradish is preparing to open the building for donations and volunteer training. With a tentative opening date of Tuesday, December 1 (depending on volunteer positions being filled), Bradish is working quickly. He shared, “It’s a rather ambitious charge, but I know it’s possible. Jacksonville has the resource and the heart for helping others. I’ve seen programs in the past in this community where people have responded in a generous manner.”

The goal for the TEOSA is to provide a warm, safe place for homeless individuals to house for the night during the cold winter months, through March of 2021. During that time, the TEOSA will work in cooperation with feeding programs in Jacksonville, and they will mainly function as a warming center where they can have a safe, welcoming place to sleep. Also, Bradish and his team hope to direct their guests to find more permanent residences by working with Community Collaborative Solutions, Homeward Bound, a branch of Midwest Youth Services, LEARN Program, and MCS (Morgan, Cass, Scott Services).

At the TEOSA, guests will begin their visit by entering the large welcoming area where they can present their police clearance forms, show their ID, receive a temperature check, be screened for any health symptoms and have their personal belongings checked. When guests receive clearance to stay the night, they will receive a personal hygiene bag, bedding and be assigned a sleeping area. Bradish plans to have a game table and a TV as well to provide some wholesome forms of evening entertainment.

Bradish says, “To win the battle against homelessness in Jacksonville it’s going to take an army of dedicated volunteers who are willing to fight the good fight …” To date, he is looking for volunteers in the following areas:

– Director’s Assistant, ideally with good people skills and a social work background

– Evening and overnight personnel, covering shifts from 6 p.m. – 1 a.m. and 1 a.m. – 8 a.m.

– Cleaning crew members to clean the facility each morning

– Laundry personnel to handle the linens used daily

– Check-in personnel to greet and screen the guests from 5 – 6 p.m. daily

To volunteer, individuals must be over 21 years of age, pass a routine background check, and attend one of the four scheduled training sessions.

Friday, November 27 is planned to be an “all hands-on deck day” to receive and inventory donations and get the facility functioning. From there, there are four training sessions that volunteers can choose from: Saturday, November 28, 2 – 4 p.m., Monday, November 30, 10 a.m. – noon, 2 – 4 p.m., and 6 – 8 p.m.

In closing, Bradish shared a probing thought. In the book of Genesis, Cain asks God a question, “am I my brother’s keeper?” That question has been sitting out there since the beginning of time. Bradish said, “I find the answer in Matthew 25:40, the parable of the sheep and the goats.” There, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

Bradish said, “I speak from a Christian perspective, but I think that’s a universal truth … The fact is, we are called to help others in their time of need when we have the resources and ability to do so.” He added, “There is a lot of misunderstanding about dealing with homeless people. It’s a win-win situation to be able to work in this kind of environment and to know and appreciate and love your fellow man.”

If you or someone you know would like to be a part of this worthy undertaking, contact Chaplain Alan Bradish at jpdchaplain@gmail.com or call or text (217) 719-9358.

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