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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:

  • Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, there are people in this community who legitimately need our help. Are there people out there who exploit our generosity? Absolutely. But do we turn our backs on those truly in need, simply because we can't tell them apart from the ones who aren't? That's the million dollar question, and one that each of us has the right to answer for ourselves.
  • Homeless?...My back hurts, poor me. My dad had 6 titanium screws in his back and still had to take morphine daily for pain in his back after the screws were in and he still drove truck 6 days a week. Like I said , there are those willing to work for a living and those who throw that hand out, waiting for somebody to pay their way thru life. Get off the computer and get a job. There are jobs out there for those who seek them. My kid is making $10.50 an hour in town and working full time with no prior job skills or training.
  • It seems to me that if something isn't done about the homeless issue that there will be bigger more serious issues that our community will have to deal with. If people are desperate, have no money, no food, no place to go, nothing to do, there will be trouble...With our country in socioeconomic crisis, action needs to be taken by every community before things get out of hand by attempting to solve issues before even larger ones occur, such as increased crime stemming from desperation... Everybody, everywhere can affect change. Open your eyes, minds, and hearts!
  • Some people do choose to be homeless by their actions in life. That I don't have any compassion for. For example, some choose to drink and not pay bills. And please, don't tell me it's some illness or disease. That is a cop out. It's a choice.
  • I believe the homeless problem first began when mental hospitals were closed. Now with the current economic conditions many children, teens, mothers, fathers and elderly folks have become homeless as well. I don't need these services today but I am glad that an effort is being made to help those who do...Love thy neighbor like thy self.

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