XENIA — The holidays may be over, but the need doesn’t end for many Greene County families.
“We always seem to get an influx of people as the cold weather approaches,” Bill Mallernee, executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network/ Schneider House of Hope said. “This is an important time for our families and an important time for the support of our services as well.”
Mallernee, who has directed the transitional housing center on South Detroit Street for three years, speaks about the shelter, as he usually does, with humility, hope, and a whole lot of gratitude.
But there is a bit of concern in his voice, too, this time, as the shelter faces financial difficulties that could ultimately close its doors.
According to Sue Mortsolf, IHN board president, unless the organization can increase its revenues to cover its operating budget, the homeless shelter’s services may be cut back as early as April.
“It’s a community problem,” Mortsolf said. “To me, a community takes care of each other. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Since 1995, the charity has provided short-term shelter and assistance to displaced families in Greene County. It began as a day center, until Brad and Eric Montgomery of Montgomery Insurance & Investments donated the old Francis Inn building to the cause in 2002. Just a short walk from the Xenia Station railroad hub, the inn once welcomed passengers and visitors looking for a place to stay.
Through volunteer workers and donated funds, the inn was converted into the facility it is today, housing homeless families on the second floor and providing office space for staff on the first floor. The mission remains simple and the same: to provide shelter and hot meals to families in need.
But IHN is different from many homeless shelters because it offers temporary housing, rather than emergency drop-in services. In its 10 hotel-like rooms, families with children stay for around 60 days, while working toward educational goals, job opportunities and a housing voucher. In 2017, IHN served 35 families — or 43 adults and 63 children — including newborns and adults over 50.
“Those are families that have probably burned bridges or used up the allowable or available time with family or friends. Some of them are people, families that faced sudden changes, whether it be an eviction or loss of a job due to health issues or whatever,” Mallernee said. “So this gives a place — it’s almost like home. A secure place for families to hang out until the paperwork is done, the appointments are made and kept and they receive that voucher and they’re able to find a place of their own.”
In addition to families served — like the 106 last year — Mortsolf said there are usually families on a wait list, further demonstrating the urgent need for the shelter in the county.
“If we don’t exist — what happens to these families?” Mortsolf asked.
The current operating budget for IHN comes from individual donations and fundraisers held throughout the year. Grants received can only be used specifically for certain items — like capital improvements or specific equipment.
Thus, the operation runs largely by volunteers. They serve as overnight hosts each night and bring in meals for the clients. Mallernee says volunteers can get as involved as they like — whether that means dropping off a meal or playing games with clients during an overnight stay.
“I believe in IHN. I believe it can help us fulfill some of the biblical requirements of what it means to truly love the least of these. I think it is a very gentle way of enabling people to do outreach-type service and ministries,” he said.
One room in the building serves as a special host room. Previous experience isn’t required, although hosts do have a booklet to reference.
“We couldn’t do what we do with the budget we have if we didn’t have volunteers. It’s just plain and simple. We would not be able to operate,” Mallernee said.
This winter, Mallernee and Mortsolf are urging community members, businesses, college groups and churches to volunteer and make monetary donations. A commitment from a business or businesses would give the place a sense of security, they both said. About $5,000 sustains the shelter’s operating expenses for one week.
“I always go back to the scripture where Jesus said the poor you will always have with you. Until it’s a problem that goes away, we should be willing to contribute to trying to help those who are in that situation,” Mallernee said.
Despite the numbers, the two are optimistic about the future of the House of Hope.
“People have compassion. People don’t want other people to live in the streets, in their cars,” Mortsolf said. “We’re not giving up. We’re exploring all the avenues. Our intent is to keep on going and to provide the same services we always have.”
They’re also grateful, especially on the days former clients come back to the shelter to volunteer.
“I think that’s a great testimony to the services that are provided, and it’s a great testimony to the community and the churches that have supported IHN throughout the years,” Mallernee said. “The community has enabled us to help a lot of families.”
He continued, “I just wish every person would be able to talk to all of those families, just be able to understand what it meant to them at the time to have a place to go to, to have somebody that cared and listened and pointed them in the right direction.”
To volunteer, make a donation or become a sponsor, call the Schneider House of Hope at 937-372-0705, visit www.ihnofgreeneco.org or find the house on Facebook. The office at 124 S. Detroit St. is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498.
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