• Erica Smith

Yoda Wisdom for Shelter and Housing

To alleviate the issue of chronic homelessness in a community, it takes a coordinated, system-response that meets multiple social and individual needs of the people we want to help. Yet when Springfield talks as a community about homelessness, we tend to sound like Princess Leia calling for Obi-Wan Kanobi. “Help us, Emergency Shelter. You’re our only hope.”


Well-run emergency shelters are an essential part of a successful strategy to reduce homelessness. Unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, shelters are not our only hope; and the reason emergency shelter alone cannot alleviate chronic homelessness in a community is because it was never designed to be the sole answer.


The Force includes shelter, outreach, permanent supported housing, and prevention/diversion resources that work in balance and coordination.


Chronic homelessness is not any one person or agency’s fault. It’s not for a lack of resources, and it’s certainly not because the people who work in shelters aren’t trying or aren’t doing our jobs. If anything, Springfield has a reputation of being generous in social services – we’re resource-rich in all these ways.


Several months ago Helping Hands did a sample of our bed logs (the roster of people who stayed in our emergency shelter on a given night) comparing 2018 with 2013. We were shocked to see about 30% of the names on our list five years ago still regularly appear on our bed logs today.


As a result, we realized we need a strategy to change things. When people are in crisis and need a place to sleep, shelter is necessary and we provide it – with the help of volunteers, faith communities, and other organizations. If we are looking to empower people to leave homelessness, however, it can’t end there.


We must also have a strategy to prevent homelessness and help people get housed quickly when they do experience it. Without such a system, we have the situation Springfield is currently in – shelters overfilling in the winter, and a crowd of people sleeping outside Lincoln Library in the summer.


Helping Hands offers permanent supported housing, and so last September we set out to strengthen our program with the goal to expand. I’m proud to say we are right on target and hoping to continue this progress dependent on community support.


We also joined our partners in the Heartland Continuum of Care to adopt the Crisis Response System (CRS) as a collective approach that includes outreach, prevention, coordinated entry (triage), emergency shelter, and permanent supported housing to address homelessness. Other cities have used a CRS for years with success, and it recognizes that emergency shelters alone cannot alleviate homelessness – although when run effectively and efficiently, they are a key part of a successful approach.


We’re at a point in Springfield where the issue of homelessness is reaching crisis. Our shelters, and our municipal building, are full every evening. Tonight, in Springfield, there are people with terminal cancer who are sleeping in abandoned buildings. For too many, homelessness and hopelessness have become a way of life. There are people with severe mental health issues who are on the streets because our Winter Warming Center cannot safely house them, with 53 other people, in a facility that was not designed for that purpose.

Helping Hands believes in our community. We believe together we can create a system that prevents homelessness. And for those who experience it, we can make it rare, brief, and non-recurring.


We believe in a trauma-informed approach that meets people where they are and loves them. We believe our clients should be empowered to make their own decisions. We believe with both accountability and compassion, people can re-build their lives – no matter where they are today. We believe that even though it is a challenge, we can support people from street to stable housing.


We believe in Yoda, and our determination to create better outcomes for our neighbors without homes rests on his advice:


“Do or do not; there is no ‘try.’”

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Contact Us:

1023 E. Washington Street, Springfield, IL 62703

Office: (217) 522-0048

Fax: (217) 522-0549

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