Most people take having a warm place to sleep at night and a place to call home for granted. For many, these are luxuries they once enjoyed—now, they’re faced with a struggle just to survive. The reasons behind homelessness are many. Sometimes, it’s a sad side effect of mental illness. Other times, it’s a result of substance abuse. Recent studies have shown that many Americans are no more than one to two paychecks away from losing their homes, so for many of those facing homelessness, their circumstances might simply be caused by losing a job.
Whatever the reason, oftentimes people just need a helping hand, and that’s where communities can step in, step up, and really shine.
For five years, La Porte County Center Township Trustee Lisa Pierzakowski has pushed for a way to help make a difference in her community. Thanks to the help of local churches and individuals, she has found a way to offer the homeless a place to go.
Located inside Christ Church at the corner of Indiana and Jefferson avenues in La Porte, La Porte PADS (People Acting to Deliver Shelter) has been open since January 3, offering those in most dire need of assistance warm meals and a safe place to sleep.
Open seven days a week and staffed entirely by volunteers, the shelter welcomes visitors to check in between 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Guests are given a warm meal, a place to sleep for the night, and are served breakfast before they leave the next morning.
Visitors enter through the Jefferson St. entrance. They go to the intake room, where they sign in and store their belongings. While the shelter is co-ed, men and women sleep in separate spaces, and there are both male and female volunteers on staff at all times. Though there is no cable TV access available at the shelter, there is a television with movies available to watch on DVD for entertainment. A community meal area offers water, coffee, snacks, and fresh fruit.
Visitors to the shelter are required to be sober during their stay and must leave all their belongings in their assigned totes. They are not allowed to have their personal belongings with them while at the shelter, for the safety of staff as well as other guests. Guests are asked to take their belongings with them when they leave for the day.
“So far, we’ve helped nearly two dozen people,” Pierzakowski said. “We’re averaging seven to eight guests each night.”
In addition to offering shelter, La Porte PADS seeks to help get to the root of the problem.
“What we’re mostly trying to do is to find out what is causing their homelessness—why are they here?—and then trying to find ways to help them change their situation,” Pierzakowski said. “We had one young man who we knew had an addiction problem. Finally, he came to me and said, ‘I need help,’ so we got him into detox, got him help, and eventually drove him to a rehab house in Lafayette.”
“We had several men who were not working when they first came here,” she added, “so the very first thing we did was help to find them a job. We also make sure that they have access to food stamps, healthcare, whatever they need to get them to the next step—that’s what we focus on.”
Though the shelter has only been open a few weeks, La Porte PADS volunteers have already seen the positive impact they’re making on the community and in the lives of those who’ve they’ve helped.
“One gentleman has already found his own permanent housing,” Pierzakowsk said. “Through Housing Opportunities, we were able to get him back to Valpo, where he needed to be, in order to be closer to his specialist. We also were able to help one young lady get into her own apartment right away, and we currently have two more gentlemen who are looking to be placed into their own homes through Housing Opportunities within the next week to ten days.”
Guests are also required to visit the office of the Township Trustee within their first 48 hours of staying at the shelter, in order to be interviewed to assess their needs and develop a plan to address their homeless situation and correct it.
“Whether they need assistance, or are unable to work, we address those needs through my office,” Pierzakowski said.
“The whole idea is for this to be safe, temporary housing for these people, to be a place where they can come in, have a hot meal and a warm place safe to stay, and then help them on a path towards more permanent housing, with the help of several other programs,” she said.
The shelter operates through the help of several area churches, including Liberty Bible Church, First Church of God, and Agape, with members from each church volunteering to help with the shelter.
“It’s all done through community support, there is no township money going into this,” Pierzakowski said.
La Porte PADS is expected to close for a time on April 15, and Pierzakowski said that they are planning to re-open in a permanent location next November.
Pierzakowski said that donations of items such as sanitary wipes and drinking water (either gallons or 8-10 oz. bottles) are welcome, and volunteers are always encouraged. Those interested may contact the office of the Township Trustee for more information at (219) 362-2736, or follow the La Porte PADS Facebook page for updates.