The Pekin Salvation Army quickly opened the doors of its men’s shelter Wednesday night as temperatures dipped into the teens, but nobody came for shelter.
Major Rick Ray had said earlier in the day that staff was not in place for the shelter and it would not be opening until staff was hired, but Tri-County Director of Development Rich Draeger said Thursday that staff had been hired, but with the busy Christmas Campaign there had been no time to let all parties know.
Officials are still trying to hire an additional shelter aid and an offer has been made to a potential shelter director, said Draeger. He said he hopes to have that person in place after the first of the year. Majors Rick and Kim Ray are filling in where need be until all positions are filled.
The shelter was scheduled to open on Dec. 1, but staffing issues prevented that. The men’s six-bed shelter is now open from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. Food is furnished to them before they leave in the morning. It operates on a first come, first serve basis. Once a man is registered, he can stay each night until he no longer needs shelter. The women and children’s area is open 24/7.
Money has been the main issue in opening the men’s section and keeping the women/children’s section open around the clock. The Christmas Campaign this year has named a need, not a goal, said Draeger. The “need” to keep the shelter open and run other programs is $200,000. As of Monday, the campaign had brought in $58,641.22, or 29.2 percent. That includes two large private donations of $10,000 and $25,000. The Salvation Army has also applied for a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant from the city, which would have to be approved by the Pekin City Council.
Bellringers have been hard to find this year, said Draeger. Some paid bellringers are not reporting for duty and volunteers are coming up short. Some local service organizations are helping — Kiwanis, Rotary and other organizations have pitched in their time. Students from Pekin Community High School also volunteered as bellringers over the weekend.
The center in the past has been funded through private donations, state and federal grants. The grants have dropped significantly.
The Pekin Daily Times received a few calls from upset residents after comments — at a council meeting and at a press conference — by Major Jesse Collins were reported in the paper. The community has supported the shelter for 14 years and helped in a campaign to open it.
In July, Councilman Tim Golden referenced an article in the Daily Times when it was first announced that single men could not stay in the shelter, “which would certainly suggest to the average person that somehow having single men there is a compromise to safety,” Golden said.
Collins said at the council meeting, “And that it is. Our facility is designed in such a way that there are no barriers. So, any single man has access to the single women and children, or to the families and children ... We will not put people in harms way for possible predators. We will offer to provide services to single men in a different area with a barrier between families and children if we’re able to fund that program.”
Another comment from Collins in August said, “If the community wants the services to the homeless population at this level (24/7), then this is what we need to raise. We’ve set a budget in Pekin that answers the cry of the community and says, this is what we need to raise in order to supply what you’ve cried out for.”
Draeger said Thursday, the August comment was simply an appeal for a successful Christmas campaign to support the shelter. The shelter has been operating at a deficit for two years, he said. Money was borrowed from the Peoria Red Cross to pay for operations.
“Part of the reason things gets closed down is that you can’t operate at a deficit forever,” said Draeger. “ ... It was put out there as a challenge, not as a slap or a complaint against the community.
“It was just to say, ‘Hey, we believe this is a program that you want us to do, so we need to ask your help to raise the funds to make it happen.’ Obviously, if people have felt concerned enough to call (the newspaper), I would say maybe that was the case. That was certainly not the intent. ... Certainly, we are thankful for everything the community did because obviously if it wasn’t for the Rust family there wouldn’t be a shelter at all there. It’s not that we’re not grateful for everything the community has done, it’s just that we wanted it make sure they understood that it’s been a struggle and for us to do it, we need to all help out as best we can.”
To volunteer as a bellringer or make a donation call 346-3010.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin