Editorial: River Falls is capable, but noble cause will need sustained effort
Taking care of stragglers at night who lack a roof to sleep under won't be easy. But that prospect hasn't stopped a few dozen local residents and several churches from trying.
For decades we've seen stories about drifting homeless populations that inhabit the underbellies of cities like New York, Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco.
But homelessness in River Falls? Those who speak for our social service agencies, churches and police say it's not the same problem, but there are indeed people, especially in this recession, who show up with no place to spend the night.
They've knocked on church doors for help, or just slept in a car or a crate, maybe pitched a tent in Hoffman Park. While their numbers are small there are signs the problem is growing.
Two years ago a group of civic-minded area leaders took a shot at another growing problem -- those who had no healthcare insurance and couldn't afford to see a doctor. And so the River Falls-based Free Clinic of Pierce and St. Croix Counties was born.
Open since spring 2007, the free health clinic has served well over 1,000 mostly middle-aged men and women, many either part-time employed or jobless, with some recently thrown out of work. The incredible part is that the free clinic can tap a huge volunteer base weekly to staff 25 positions for each 3.5-hour evening shift. A board of directors handles fundraising, publicity, supplies and a six-figure annual budget.
An overnight homeless shelter, while not requiring the medical and technical expertise of a free health clinic, remains a daunting task.
For one, the shelter will be open every night and part of the next day. For another, it will shift among several of the larger churches until a permanent site is found. Then there's the organization and monitoring needed for safe, segregated lodging for men, women, children and families.
There's also the continual need to obtain bathroom and bedding supplies, food and preparing meals. The to-do list goes on.
It'll take a small army of dedicated volunteers. Like the free clinic, River Falls has proved itself capable of many voluntary endeavors, so we think the homeless shelter project can and will succeed.
Journal online readers had lots to say about the news of a church-based homeless shelter for River Falls. Here's a sample: