Community Action, Inc. Changes the Face of Homelessness in Walworth County

The Delavan-Darien School District reports sixty-nine percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch, a number second only to Milwaukee Public Schools in a review of poverty in Wisconsin’s schools. The manager of Twin Oaks Shelter for the Homeless, located in the Town of Darien, sees this statistic as part of a larger trend of serving the working poor.

“Last year 22% of the homeless people who entered Twin Oaks already had employment and this year 29% entered with employment in place,” says manager Renae Mitchell. “In some cases people may even be working more than one job but their income still is not enough to meet obligations like child support, living expenses and rent.”

Living in poverty profoundly affects these families.

“I’ve noticed it sometimes takes a week or two for a new family to overcome the shock of having lived in their cars or on the streets or in some other hostile environment,” says Mitchell. “I’ve seen the faces of adults and kids light up at the sight of beds made up with clean sheets, a soft pillow and basic toiletries waiting for them when they move in.”

Twin Oaks is Walworth County’s only 24-hour emergency homeless shelter, and the facility is usually at capacity. Mitchell says she receives multiple calls a day for applications. She says she tries to give applicants hope when she puts their names on a waiting list, but she also explains that it could be up to six months before there’s an opening.

Once accepted into the shelter, residents meet with a case manager and work toward becoming self-sufficient during their stay, which can last up to three months. The Twin Oaks program features three components: 1) residents set up individualized goals during weekly meetings with their case manager; 2) they participate in workshops on job search skills, budgeting, and stress management; and 3) they complete weekly chores to help maintain the shelter. By cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, picking up the playground and organizing donations, residents become more self-reliant and learn to become better tenants.

Volunteers are urgently needed to help staff the 24/7 shelter. Holidays are an especially hard time when staff need a break but the residents need to feel cared for. The gift of time from volunteers who can mentor or help maintain the shelter is a constant need. Please contact shelter manager Renae Mitchell at 262-882-3662 or rmitchell@community-action.org for more information.

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