It’s raining outside right now as I write this on Thanksgiving eve; a cold, chill-you-to-the-bone downpour. On this day before Thanksgiving, the weather promises to get worse before the night is out. The cheerfully nice TV weathercaster is predicting lows in the twenties and single digit wind chills.

It won’t be a fit night out there for man nor beast. Or a woman and child. If you’re one of the poor, unfortunate families wandering the streets in search of shelter tonight, it will be difficult to find any reason for ‘Thanksgiving’ in the morning.

Most of us are used to seeing homeless men on street corners, shabbily dressed and holding up those hand-scrawled ‘will work for food’ signs. What you don’t see is a greater, hidden tragedy: one-third of all homeless people are mothers and children.

To combat that social injustice, Kansas City-based Sheffield Place works hard every day of the year “To empower homeless mothers and their children to heal from their trauma and help them become self-sufficient.” It exists to give shelter to homeless women and their children, to help them overcome the traumas that put them out there in the first place and to help them rebuild their lives.

Vice President of Development, David Hanzlick, CFRE, told me that Sheffield Place is a residential facility that can shelter 14 families for up to two years. Its point-of-difference and the reason for its phenomenal success, he said, is that it treats the life traumas that created the homelessness – family disintegration, sexual assault, alcohol, drugs.

“We have a 7 step Empowerment Program that helps families cope with those traumas,” he said. “The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) study showed that four or more of those traumatic incidences lead to a three to five time increase in suicide and potentially fatal health problems. On average, our families have experienced six of those incidents.”

“Our 7-Step Empowerment Program is a client-driven process that encourages personal accountability and responsibility. Our Case Manager measures the woman’s independent living skills and asks her to set goals focused on her family, education, job skills, and ability to maintain her family in permanent housing. Each step contains a set of individualized learning and training modules to advance her toward those goals.”

LIFE AT SHEFFIELD PLACE

“We have three floors with 4 to five living units on each floor,” said Hanzlick as he described life in the converted YMCA facility. “Each unit has two rooms – a living area, a bedroom and a bath. Mom usually sleeps in the living area and the kids get the bedroom. All the units share a kitchen and eating area and a laundry room.”

“We take in families with children up to and including 12 years old,” he said. “The average family has one or two children, sometimes three. Most are under five.”

The typical Sheffield Place mother is a single, 29-year-old mother with two children. Often a victim of domestic violence and recovering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, she is most likely unemployed and receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. She probably has few job skills and no high school diploma. She usually has some issues – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, chemical dependency – that the Sheffield staff helps her overcome.”

To prepare families for self-sufficiency and the challenges of managing a home, families practice life skills. The mothers care for their own living unit and take responsibility for cleaning shared living spaces. With guidance, they learn to prepare healthy food on a tight budget and to resolve conflict in a positive manner. Financial education helps each woman resolve debt and place money in a savings account to begin preparing for the time when she leaves Sheffield Place.

“Most families stay with us for about a year and during that time, we try to work with the children to improve development, mental health and family functioning. That’s our goal,’ said Hanzlick, “and the program has had great success helping children and families overcome the trauma of their lives.”

During their time at Sheffield Place, mothers are working at a job, looking for work or going to school. Hanzlick noted that finding employment for many of these mothers has become more difficult in today’s economy. Most of them are looking for lower skilled, entry level positions and those are increasingly hard to find.

THEIR SUCCESSES

Andrea’s story
Vanessa’s story
Mary’s story

THE HISTORY OF SHEFFIELD PLACE

Sheffield Place opened its doors in February 1991 as a community response to the growing population of homeless mothers and their children in the Kansas City area. Since then, Sheffield Place has assisted more than 560 families in making the difficult journey from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Ninety percent of the program’s graduates and 65 percent of non-graduates achieve greater self-determination, increasing education and employment skills. They also obtain and retain permanent housing, and overcome the impact of the traumas that put them on the street.

In 2007, Sheffield Place became the first homeless shelter in the nation to provide the three best evidence-based therapeutic modalities for traumatized children.

In January 2008, Sheffield Place implemented the CARE (Child Adult Relationship Enhancement) model for trauma informed service systems.

In August 2008, Sheffield Place was selected as one of 20 organizations nationwide to participate in a learning community sponsored by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network to implement Integrated Treatment of Complex Trauma (ITCT).

In March 2009, as a result of our commitment to evidence-based treatments, Sheffield Place was recognized as a national best practice for our work with traumatized, homeless children (America’s Youngest Outcasts: A State Report Card on Child Homelessness, March 2009).

Sheffield Place believes that the mental health needs of the homeless mothers and children who call Sheffield Place home must be addressed to help children and families heal from their trauma to gain self-sufficiency.

KEEPING THE DOORS OPEN

“We are financed in many ways,” said Hanzlick. “Government grants include HUD, Jackson County Mental Health Fund, Jackson County COMBAT, and Emergency Shelter Grants. We also receive support from foundations such as the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the REACH Healthcare Foundation, R.A. Long Foundation, H & R Block Foundation, Deluxe Corporation Foundation, Royals Charities, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Citi Cards, Metzler Bros. Insurance, Johnson Controls, and First National Bank.”

In-kind gifts are needed to help our families as they make the difficult journey from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Sheffield Place welcomes our partners in the faith community as well as clubs and organizations who can conduct Holiday drives and to help us with basics such as linens – sheets, blankets, comforters, towels and pillows. We need shampoos, toothbrushes, diapers and other hygiene products. Our children need books, toys and games, healthy snacks, coloring books, crayons – the things that make for a joyful Christmas.”

“Right now, we have 20 kids here with an average age of about five. Your involvement in whatever capacity is important to them. Your personal time, a check, gift on line – it all helps keep our doors open.”

Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Cattlenetwork.com and Agnetwork.com.