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Local News

Daybreak Shelter helps homeless get back on their feet

Catholic Charities invites a close-up look at shelter

JOLIET – Felicia Wiggins had no where to go.

Wiggins, 48, was living in Joliet before she left the home of a relative in August because they could not get along.

With no place to stay, she went to the Daybreak Shelter. Since then, the shelter has helped her find a single-bedroom home and take classes at Joliet Junior College for her GED. 

The shelter has given her hope for a better life. 

“I’m blessed to be in a place like this,” she said. “Daybreak is a good place to help you with whatever you need.”

The Daybreak Shelter, 611 E. Cass St., run by Catholic Charities, is a 24-hour shelter that operates all year. The shelter provides emergency housing and supportive services to homeless people and families. 

On Tuesday, Daybreak provided an inside look at its kitchen, food pantries, housing program and family shelter. The shelter’s staff said they held the open house to give the community a closer look at what happens at Daybreak.

For many homeless and impoverished people in the area, Daybreak is their only way to get a meal, a place to stay or medical treatment.

A place to eat

Hundreds of volunteers help with Daybreak’s food pantry and kitchen services, which can be especially busy during lunchtime. Anywhere from 120 to 200 people come to the shelter during lunch, said Stephanie Ambrose, volunteer coordinator. 

“For many homeless people, this is their only meal of the day,” she said. 

Daybreak’s staff consists of roughly 25 people, which makes the help from its hundreds of volunteers crucial, Ambrose said. Staff and volunteers help serve between 300 and 500 meals a day, she said. 

Most of Daybreak’s food comes from private donations and charitable organizations, such as the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The food pantry has been stocked with enough food recently – with increases expected during the holidays – but it suffered shortages in recent months, Ambrose said. 

A place to stay

People who come to Daybreak for help are not only served food, but provided housing. The shelter offers a permanent supportive housing program for chronically homeless and disabled men. Daybreak also provides a family shelter for mothers with children under age 13. 

Ambrose said the family shelter is restricted to 20 people, who receive beds, lockers and storage spaces. Inside the locker room, she showed a colorful blanket woven from plastic bags. The clients make them for the homeless so they can keep dry outdoors, she said. 

“Some of the women make beautiful patterns with them,” she said. 

The permanent supportive housing program – also known as New Beginnings – houses 16 men on two floors. At times, the men help with the food pantry and also with the shelter when it runs as a warming center during the winter, Ambrose said. 

“They will help us a lot with our shelter maintenance … they give back in a lot of ways,” she said. 

A place for health

One new shelter addition is the medical clinic, which opened in the spring, said Glenn Van Cura, Catholic Charities executive director. He said the clinic had a “dramatic effect” on the health of clients and preventing the spread of illnesses. 

The clinic, which Ambrose said serves six to eight clients a week, reduced the calls for ambulances. 

“A lot of them have no way to get to a hospital … except through an ambulance,” Cura said. 

Daybreak’s future

Cura said he would like to see more community involvement and partnerships with Daybreak. The shelter is at capacity with 120 people and could use more volunteers and services, he said. 

He also would like to implement a tracking program to help those who leave the shelter remain self-sufficient. 

“Once we get people the jobs, we see if we can track them so they’re not coming back,” he said. 

Harry Flowers, 46, has been a client at Daybreak for several weeks and plans to move to Coal City when he’s ready to leave. 

He came to the shelter unemployed and with no money. With the shelter’s assistance, he works as a cold storage laborer.

“[Daybreak] gets you on your feet, and it gets you going back to life,” Flowers said. 

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