Northwoods homeless shelter grows into a model program
By Eileen Persike
A little more than a month ago, a Frederick Place resident named Lee was walking out the door of a local treatment center to an unknown future. His only possessions tucked into a duffle bag and in an unfamiliar city, Lee knew one thing for sure. He wanted to start over.
“I decided I didn’t want to go back from where I came from; I wanted a fresh start,” Lee said. “Fortunately, I was greeted here with open arms and it’s been great.”
Frederick Place opened its doors Jan. 31, 2011, behind the guiding strength of the Northwoods Alliance for Temporary Housing (NATH), a non-profit charity started in 2009. One resident stayed that first night; half a decade later, Frederick Place has sheltered nearly 500 individuals, and has never been empty.
“We have been very blessed, and perhaps more blessed than a lot of shelters as far as community support,” said Tammy Modic, NATH’s first and only executive director. “Everyone believed there was homelessness, but was there enough to sustain a shelter?”
Modic said at first there was the “not in my backyard” sentiment, but after the current site was selected and the shelter successfully run without incident, she said, “I truly believe that NATH and Frederick Place have taken that piece out of the mix.”
Incoming NATH President, Peter Rasmussen, began volunteering when he moved to the area from Racine. “I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” he said. “For the most part they have had issues, troubles that have put them in a situation and found themselves homeless for a number of reasons. Everyone, for the most part who comes through is trying to better themselves.”
And if they aren’t trying to better themselves, chances are they won’t last. That’s a big part of what makes Frederick Place special. There are rules, curfews, chores, and a zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol, and abusive behavior. Perhaps most importantly, House Manager, Becca Mahoney and staff member, Susan Statezny meet with every person who walks in the door to create an individualized plan as to what he or she must accomplish while staying at Frederick Place.
“It takes a lot of effort on the part of the staff, it’s not a cookie cutter plan because each person has their own abilities and disabilities,” Rasmussen said. “That is a key component that they do for the residents.”
“They have to set self-sufficiency goals and they need to complete and document every week ten things they have done to work toward their self sufficiency,” Modic explained. “We’re not a bed and breakfast.”
“Doing what they need to do helps them earn their 30, 60, 90 days,” Mahoney added. “Having a set plan and having them be part of that plan is what helps them get up and get moving.”
For resident Lee, it was a two for one, finding a shelter and a sober environment.
“This made a great transition for me,” Lee said. “When I get back into society, and get my own place to live, I’m going to be around that kind of stuff and this has given me a buffer; I’ve had this safe zone here and there is wonderful structure and rules and I really needed that.”
Other shelters throughout the state have been modeled after Frederick Place’s structure and expectations of the residents; just one way Modic and Mahoney said they know they are making a difference. When former residents give back, by showing up on the doorstep with a few bags of groceries or volunteer to help at the house. After five years, there is fundraising for NATH and the shelter that happens without staff knowing about it.
“We’ve operated in the black all five years,” Modic said. “The reason we are able to do that is because of the community support. Eighty to ninety percent of meals are donated by business groups, organizations and families. We put out our top ten wish list, and we get everything.”
What direction NATH decides to take, which may someday include opening another type of facility, will be tackled by first reviewing where the organization is in 2016. Rasmussen takes over for long time president and organizer Bill Miller.
“Bill’s shoes are going to be hard to fill. He’s very important to this organization; he’s been with it since the very beginning,” Rasmussen said. “He’s put his heart and soul into it and I really appreciate that.”
Whatever the next five years holds, the staff of Frederick Place and board members of NATH agree that with the generous support of the community, they will continue to make a difference.