Battle Creek’s SHARE Center is for more than just drop-ins. It provides access to resources and services.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave On the ground Battle Creek range.

When children come to the SHARE Center with their families to eat, Robert Elchert wants them to feel like they are dining in a restaurant and not in a “charity”.

Elchert, executive director of the SHARE (Self Help Awareness Recovery & Enrichment) Center, says living in poverty takes a psychological toll on anyone living this reality, and he wants to make sure his organization provides support and resources with empathy . The goal is to restore dignity while working to lift people out of poverty.

In addition to the services and resources that the SHARE Center already offers, Elchert says Elchert is also doing what it can to meet the growing need for housing for homeless families and individuals, especially those customers who experience the SHARE Center.

“We work with a family through Neighborhoods Inc. We try to keep them in a hotel until we find accommodation for them, ”Elchert gives just one example. “We’ll either find a hotel for you or you will sleep in your car. This is a family of four with service animals and this type of living is not ideal. The longer their children stay in this environment, the more likely they are to end up in poverty. We have to break this cycle. “

On Thursday, the SHARE Center at 120 Grove Street is hosting an open house from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. to showcase the many services it offers to help vulnerable people and families in the community. Compared to other nonprofits in the community, the SHARE Center provides the “lion’s share” of free breakfast, lunch, and dinner for everyone in the community seven days a week, says Elchert.

In 2020, just over 30,000 meals were served in a cafeteria on one side of the 10,000-square-foot building that used to be an auto parts warehouse. Elchert hopes to raise funds through grants to turn the cafeteria into a center for homeless services that focus on families when not used to provide meals.

Marie Garner, left, has her vital signs checked at the SHARE Center by Paige Decker, a nursing student at Kellogg Community College.Currently, families have limited access to services such as clothing and household items. He says he’s always looking for donations to store an area of ​​the building allotted for these items.

When the cafeteria is not used as a communal meal, it acts as a focal point for the homeless to access resources and services to meet their basic needs. You can secure a government ID and access important records; receive employment and social performance coaching; Get city bus passes; Wash clothes; and get clothes, blankets, and personal hygiene items.

The annual budget for the SHARE Center is around $ 500,000.

“A good part of that comes from Summit Pointe to finance the drop-in center,” says Elchert. “The canteen side is financed by grants and donations.”

The nonprofit was founded in 1992 by a group of people who had real life experiences recovering from mental health problems and addiction problems. Today, the overwhelming majority of the 3,500 customers the SHARE Center serves annually are homeless people with mental health problems and substance abuse.

You will enter a drop-in center that is separated from the cafeteria side of the building by walls and doors. Currently, this center is only available to the homeless, not families.

“If you don’t have an apartment that you can afford, your choices are very limited,” says Elchert. “As part of our focus is on families, we can provide them with items like diapers, baby food, food, crayons, and coloring books to make it better for kids so they can remember this place as a positive place. We also have pots and pans and clothes for children and adults so that families don’t have to spend money on these things and can spend that money on housing. “

Elchert says the focal point is technically a Summit Pointe-funded mental health facility.

“This point of contact includes peer support recovery coaches who work with individuals or through support groups for women, men and veterans. There are also group meetings for people with mental health problems and addiction problems, ”says Elchert. “We also offer enriching activities such as yoga, gardening, life skills, art and music, and a computer lab.”

Robert Elchert, managing director of the SHARE Center, stands for a space that he hopes will become a developed, open recreational space and not an undeveloped field.The peer run model means that all employees of the SHARE Center and its board members have already had experience with the mental health system.

“When you’ve been through it, you invest a lot more in our work than someone who hasn’t experienced it,” says Elchert. “It helps to have staff who have been consumers of the mental health system because they know the barriers and are less likely to judge. Part of the trauma is so severe that the average person would never understand. “

At 19, Khyrinn Herring is the newest and youngest member of the Management Board. And she’s struggling with her own mental health problems.

Herring says her father struggled with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which began while serving with the U.S. Marines. His family, she says, have long histories of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

“Science cannot tell you whether it is hereditary, but that shapes your children and discourages them,” says Herring. “He was never there and I ended up having my own mental health problems. It’s been a tough journey and it hasn’t always been nice. I have a strong support system, but I know that there is a very fine line separating me from people who cannot keep a job, an apartment or their children. For some of these people no one was there for them. I know what it is like to go through a manic episode or not have access to medication. It’s hell. “

According to Herring, the SHARE Center differs from other organizations that do a similar job of being supported by people who show empathy rather than pity.

“They serve to bring back humanity in dealing with people and bring to the table what connects us all as people,” she says. “To really help someone, it doesn’t take a cot and three meals a day, but rather having conversations and getting them help and continuing to figure that out and making sure they get help from someone they trust and who has their best interests Your heart.”

Provision of a temporary security zone

The focal point is intentionally designed as a safe place where people can get away from drugs and alcohol and deal with their mental health problems. They can also access services that support their efforts to break the cycles of addiction and poverty that they bring with them, says Elchert.

Tomatoes and other vegetables in the garden of the SHARE Center.For some of those they serve, especially those dealing with mental illness, the chances of ever becoming a productive member of society will never arise. A reality that Elchert and his employees and volunteers come to terms with on a daily basis. During the day, the SHARE Center is home to you and those who can manage their addiction and mental health.

If the doors of the building close at 7 p.m. every day, says Elchert, they dissolve. “They could be housed in other accommodations that offer overnight stays, in the forest or under bridges. I think the homeless population is largely invisible. They tend to hang out at the SHARE Center and other places (during the day) and you don’t really see them unless they’re fraudulent, ”he says. “I think the pandemic opened people’s eyes to how big the homeless population is, and at that point the city said, ‘We have to do something about it.'”

In late August, city guides and representatives from UPholdings, a Chicago-based affordable housing and development company, met with community residents at the SHARE Center to discuss plans for a 40 to 60-unit housing estate anywhere within the city limits.

This development will be designed for permanent supportive shelter, says Ted Dearing, Assistant City Manager, Battle Creek. While COVERS continues his interest in working with the city on this development. Dearing says the most important part will be finding a location that works for UPholdings and that is a good fit for the community.

Offering no timeline, he said, “We will take a step back and spend more time familiarizing ourselves with the characteristics of permanent supportive housing.” This would include who the tenants are and what funding mechanisms would be. “We are planning a workshop with the city commission in the near future to discuss these issues.”

Elchert says a development like the one discussed here would provide the type of living space needed for customers serviced through the SHARE center.

“Permanent support living is literally permanent,” he says. “People who qualify would have access to an apartment and support services in this building, which would also include clerks and social workers on site.”

In view of the latest statistics and Elchert’s daily observation, he says: “This is an emergency situation that must be addressed by providing housing for the people cared for in the SHARE center. I think we could use at least 10 of these permanent supportive housing developments. “

A sign in the SHARE Center cafeteria,In 2020, 732 people were affected by homelessness, according to the Battle Creek Homeless Coalition Homelessness Report. Of these people, 402 have a disability and 186 have been living without a permanent home for more than 12 months.

Elchert suspects that this is not a complete or exact census, as homeless people are often difficult to track down and do not want to be found. “If their needs are met by service providers, they will not attract attention,” he says.

The lack of permanent supportive housing quickly turns into a major frustration for Elchert, who says the SHARE center is not viewed as emergency shelter and does not have access to major state and federal grants that would allow it to offer some sort of emergency shelter up to people can find permanent shelter.

“We see a lot of veterans, seniors and children and it is difficult to accept that we are here as a society,” says Elchert. “I look at my life and think how hard it will be to change behavior in the best of times. Expecting a homeless person to overcome mental health issues and addiction issues while dealing with homelessness is a backwards model. They would be more successful if they were in a stable living situation and away from stimuli on the street. “

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