An interfaith homeless network called Just Neighbors helps keep homeless families together while also giving them tools to revamp their lives. The Simmons’ are one of those families. “I’m glad I came here because had I not, I don’t know where I would have been,” said Stephanie Simmons.
She and her two-year old son Marvin moved from Chicago to Fort Wayne in March 2018. “Both my parents are dead. I came here because my brother was here and had gotten married. He said it was a great place to live,” said Simmons. “But I couldn’t sleep on his couch. I heard about Just Neighbors and they took me in. They did a really good job because I’m in my own place now, I have a job and all my bills are paid.”
The Just Neighbors dormitory style building is located at 2925 East State Blvd. in Fort Wayne. It is equipped with all of the conveniences of home. Joshua Gale is the Executive Director. “What’s unique about Just Neighbors is we’re a one room, one roof family emergency shelter,” said Gale. “We don’t have other shelters like this in Fort Wayne. We’re able to keep families together.”
Each family sleeps in its own bedroom but has use of the entire facility. “We can take up to 10 families. So we have a number of different beds and it depends on the makeup of the families,” Gale told WANE 15.
Gale told us there is a waiting list to join the Just Neighbors program and requirements must be met. “They have to pass a drug test. They have to make sure that they’re looking for work. We do a background check and once all that information comes together we put them on the list and wait for a room that has enough beds.”
Just Neighbors began as the Interfaith Hospitality Network in 1999. Local churches provided overnight shelter and support. The name changed and in 2009 Just Neighbors moved into its current location on East State Blvd. The organization is funded through donations and grants. Families can stay for up to 45 days. In 2017, 82 families received help, a total of 253 people and of that number 147 were children.
“When we think of poverty or homeless, it’s a huge problem and we don’t have all the answers,” said Gale. “But it’s the single mother, it’s the single father, it’s the kids who are here that are the most important thing. We might not be able to change the world but we can start by changing the lives of individual people.”
“I got my CNA license and a CNA job at Heritage Park senior care community, which is across the street from the apartments where I live now,” said Simmons. “Just Neighbors helped me achieve that. I love this place. My son is in daycare and about to be in Head Start and his learning abilities are great. He knows mostly all of his numbers and his ABC’s. He’s a happy baby and he loves this place too. We come visit sometimes just to say thanks.”
While living at Just Neighbors, school-age children are able for the most part to remain in their schools thanks to partnerships with area schools. Younger children have daycare while parents seek employment, receive job training and/or budget counseling, and search for permanent or transitional housing. Professional case managers complete a needs assessment with each family in their early days of residency and then meet regularly with families to maintain accountability, track progress and set goals.
According to the US Census Bureau, 15% of the population of Allen County was living in poverty in 2016. The Indiana Youth Institute’s 2018 Kids Count Data Center has seen the number of homeless school-age children in Allen County grow from 638 in 2014 to 906 in 2016, an increase of 42%. In the same time period, the number of homeless children statewide declined.
Prior to the organization’s founding, homeless families were split up with men going to one shelter and women and children to another.
Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network will host its third annual fundraiser, Just Dinner, on November 17, 2018 at the Parkview Mirro Center from 6 to 8 p.m. Proceeds from the event go to support the only emergency homeless shelter for families in the Fort Wayne area. Tickets are $50 per person. Call Just Neighbors at 260-458-9772.
The evening includes a dinner with featured soup selections served in bowls made for attendees by University of St. Francis students, entertainment by the duo The Greys, a silent auction and raffle and a short video produced by Brad Bores about the work of Just Neighbors.
Sponsors include Rea Magnet Wire, Parkview Regional Medical Center, Ash Brokerage, Brotherhood Mutual, Crowe Horwath, the Vann Family Foundation, Franklin Electric, PNC Bank, NIPSCO, Pyromation, Paul Davis, Sweetwater, PHP, Barrett & McNagny, Hylant, Indiana Michigan Power and Trustaff.