The New Directions Warming and Cooling Center recently became a 24-hour-operated facility and will give those without a roof over their head a place to stay as temperatures drop to the teens tonight and the single digits tomorrow evening.
The building, which is connected to Grace United Methodist Church at Church and Morgan, has benefitted from new beds donated by the Jacksonville Rotary Club and Passavant Area Hospital- an upgrade from the cots people used to sleep on.
The center’s director, Vanessa Tyus, says that New Directions isn’t just a place for shelter during this cold weather- it’s about helping people get back on their feet.
“New Directions is a place where they can come… for a new direction, for hope, for them to come in and get these services that they need to be able to function and to be able to make it in our community, in the Jacksonville area,” says Tyus.
For example, some might need help applying for employment or social security.
One woman from Jacksonville who’s staying there- we’ll call her “Lynn”- became homeless along with her husband and 12-year-old daughter after falling victim to the tough economy.
“We moved to Springfield for employment reasons. We had a death in the family. I lost my job; my husband couldn’t find work, and none of the shelters in Springfield had room for anyone with children,” she says. “If you had a child, you were out in the cold.”
There’s also the offer of case management.
Heidi Stripe of Jacksonville was taking care of her mother and relying on her income before she says she was placed in a nursing home. Stripe found a job and says things went downhill from there.
“I was staying with a so-called friend, and all my equipment got stolen- all my clothes, just everything was gone. So, I ended up staying in my van with my three boys,” Stripe says.
She had to wipe away tears before she could continue.
“DCFS contacted me and told me to come here with my boys. They have since been placed in foster care until I can adequately support them financially.
"I have found a job since I’ve been here, so what I’m working towards is becoming financially independent and trying to get my own place so I can get them back. If New Directions wasn’t here, I don’t know what I would do.”
Stripe says she sees her children once a week. In addition to clothing for herself, she receives diapers and other supplies for her kids. Tyus says donations for individuals staying at the center are just as important as contributions to the building itself.
“A lot of them come in with nothing except the clothes on their backs, and because of the generosity of our community, we can just put the word out and the stuff is here whenever we ask,” she says.
The center still needs volunteers. Right now, it has about 20 total, with Tyus stating that there are seven to eight individuals on a daily basis. New Directions was able to hire a full-time overnight staffer through a grant.
Anna Knight, one of the volunteers, says working at New Directions can be just as life-changing as staying there.
“It helped me to appreciate things and appreciate everybody. We’re all the same; we all deserve a chance. You don’t realize how a community helps you unless you’re here and you see the kindness and the love that people do have out there,” says Knight. “The people that are living there- they’re just like me and you. They just hit a bad time in their life, and just like us, it’ll get better.”
Tyus notes that even you don’t need shelter necessarily, you can still come in from the cold any time to get a cup of soup or coffee.
New Directions has a lengthy list of what they're currently seeking for donations, besides food, water, and monetary donations:
-Garbage bags (30 gallons)
-Cough syrup and cough drops
-Plastic gloves for serving food
We have a photo album of what the shelter currently looks like on our Facebook page.