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RANDY: After Romona Baker retired from the Springfield R-12 school district, where she taught science classes at Parkview High School, she went to work for the Council of Churches of the Ozarks, heading up their Homeless Services program. Two years ago she came to a sobering realization.
ROMONA BAKER: There was no place or a homeless woman to get inside unless she had money to get a motel room. She might get on a waiting list, but those waiting lists were long... I had calls from several women who were suddenly without a place to stay, and they were asking me where to ‘hide’! And I had no idea.
RANDY: So in October of 2011 the Council of Churches opened the “Safe to Sleep” shelter for women a the K.I.N.D. Place, a transitional-living facility operated by the Kitchen, Inc.
ROMONA: The Kitchen gave us an apartment, and we had six cots to start with.
RANDY: They very quickly outgrew the six cots and single apartment at the K.I.N.D. Place, and moved on to spaces offered by local churches.
ROMONA: We’ve been at East Sunshine, and we’ve been at Schweitzer United Methodist—not kicked out of each church, but simply rotating as the use of the church builds up during the summer or whatever.
RANDY: Safe to Sleep moved into the gymnasium at Pathways United Methodist Church in the winter of 2011-2012, and returned there in November of last year. The number of women served each night varies, but Romona Baker estimates that around 25 to 30 women are accommodated nightly on average.
ROMONA: Numerous women stay one night; we have others who have been with us for months at a time. We have older women, and down to 18. We have people who are between jobs; we have people who are fighting addiction. Probably one of the largest commonalities is just mental health issues—something that’s, at this point in their life, making it difficult for them to function. It makes it hard for them to get a job, or just even be with family perhaps. The other commonality is probably that they don’t have family in the area, or that it’s very dysfunctional.
RANDY: Mention “dysfunction” at home and the issue of abuse looms large—and this drives many women to flee their current living arrangement. And if they can’t find anywhere safe to stay at night, Safe to Sleep is one answer. The important thing to remember about Safe to Sleep is that the women don’t live there—it’s only open from 7:30pm to about 7:30 the next morning, says Romona Baker.
ROMONA: And at 7:30 in the morning, they have to leave, and they have to take everything with them—there’s no storage for them. Many of them get here at 7:30 or 8, and many of them are in bed by 9, because they’re exhausted from their day outside.
RANDY: Various churches provide Safe to Sleep with supplies such as gasoline for the van that provides transportation for the women... snacks... coffee... milk. But Romona says the shelter operates on only about $100 cash per week—total. That’s NOT per person!
ROMONA: We try to provide just the necessities—enough to get by.”
RANDY: Thus donations are vitally important to the operation of the shelter—although they do receive a lot of items they really can’t use. What really keeps the place open, says Romona Baker, is volunteers. Two volunteers stay overnight at the church with the women—all night---every night. Some 40 to 50 volunteers overall are involved, and that’s barely enough.
ROMONA: If we lost even ten of those, we would shut down. So we constantly need new people.
RANDY: Romona Baker, Resources Coordinator for Homeless Services at the Council of the Churches of the Ozarks. She asks persons interested in donating items to Safe to Sleep to contact her at the Council of Churches office. Cash is always appreciated, of course... and especially volunteers, warm bodies. To find out more, Romona’s phone number is (417) 852-3586 ext.225, or visit www.ccozarks.org. For KSMU, I’m Randy Stewart.