LATHRUP VILLAGE — South Oakland Shelter has a long history and a big heart.
The nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the homeless since 1984 has outgrown its home in Royal Oak and is moving its daytime offices to Lathrup Village after purchasing a two-story, 10,000-square-foot building on 12 Mile.
“We’re very excited,” said Tawnya Bender, vice president of the SOS board of directors. “This move is long overdue.”
SOS has operated most of its 26 years in its downtown Royal Oak location, but it’s been clear for the last five years that they’ve needed a bigger space to keep up with the workload, Bender said.
“When you have two-three people sitting on top of each other in a little office, it becomes fairly obvious that we have the staff and the volunteers to do the work, but not the space to do the work,” she said. “It has limited the number of people we were able to work with, as well.”
SOS works in conjunction with 65 local faith-based congregations in southern Oakland County, operating as a rotating shelter system.
“Our homeless guests become guests of those congregations one week out of the year, and they provide shelter, meals, transportation,” Bender said. “But someone needs to organize that, and that’s what the administrative arm is, and also certainly to attract the funding that is needed to keep the shelter going.”
In the office building, volunteers and staff work on case management. Counseling services are offered, as well as workforce development training, resume writing, computer skills workshops, and Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, according to Ryan Hertz, executive director of SOS.
“Every person or family that comes in has a case manager who basically walks them through this time in their life and helps them find the resources they need, and helps them get organized and manage their affairs,” Bender said. “Hopefully, we’ll be doing a lot more than that now that we have the space. We’re looking at the types of needs that are out there and the things that we who are not homeless take for granted, like accessing a computer for a job search or apartment search or for posting resumes. When you’re homeless, chances are you’re not lugging around a laptop. (We want) to create an area simply to provide those types of communication tools.”
The face of homelessness has changed in recent years, especially with the current economic crisis gripping the nation.
“We’ve seen a change from folks that you find that live on the street as a preference to those who find themselves homeless and they have children — they have family units,” Bender said. “With foreclosures and people losing their homes or losing their jobs and not being able to afford their rent, it’s definitely a change to what most people perceived as homeless. There is a real (rise) in the number of women and children we see coming into our shelter programs.”
The organization has been looking for a new location for some time and is thrilled to be able to call Lathrup Village home.
“We think that Lathrup Village is a great community,” Hertz said, adding that they’re taking over a space vacated by the American Cancer Society. “We think it’s a fairly progressive neighborhood that understands the needs in our community right now. We think it’s a really good fit.”
Hertz said they’re interested in getting involved with local community efforts, such as the Lathrup Village TimeBank.
“We’re really looking forward to becoming a part of the community,” he said.
For more information about South Oakland Shelter, visit www.southoaklandshelter.org.
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