The COVID-19 health crisis is uniquely impacting our homeless brothers and sisters, so we sat down with three members of our St. John’s family. Berta is a Night Shift Coordinator, Mark is a Guest Intern, and Barb is a Board Member. These are their perspectives

What is your hometown?

Berta:  Pulaski, WI

Mark:  Hancock, MI

Barb:  Green Bay, WI

What is your role at St. John’s?

Berta: I am the night shift coordinator here at St John’s.

Mark: I have been a long time guest with St. John’s over the past several years. My current stay during this shelter season has brought forth the opportunity to become a guest intern. I have gained respect and trust from the staff at St. John’s through my continued sobriety and hard work towards my goals in life. As soon as I move out of the shelter and into my own apartment, I will transition from being a guest intern to being a staff member.

Barb: I’m on the Board of Directors, my main role is in fundraising and work with a great team on our annual Gala in November.

Why is St. John’s important to you?

Berta: St. John’s is important to me for many reasons. I feel like St John’s saved my life as it helps me to remain clean and sober. St John’s has given my life purpose. Also, I have this huge new family that I don’t know how I ever went without. I could not imagine my life without St John’s.

Mark:  St. John’s is important to me for several reasons. The most important thing to me is the respect, trust, and admiration I have in my life today because of St. John’s Homeless Shelter. I came from using alcohol daily to being completely sober. The acceptance I have received by St. John’s has truly saved my life! The staff has always treated me so very well, like a person who matters. There was a time in my life not too long ago when I felt unworthy, and that I wasn’t important. Today, I realize that I am very important, and I know that I am a really great person, who has so much to offer other people in my like. I have been given the opportunity to grow and develop into a pretty amazing person. The staff saw something good inside of me, that I know has always been there, but the alcohol was so self-defeating. Through their guest-intern position, I hold myself accountable to do the very best that I can each and every day with my job and all the responsibilities given to me. This brings tears to my eyes when I talk about it, because of the deep sense of love and belonging I now know today. To express my gratitude in words doesn’t properly express the deep gratitude that I hold deep in my heart for St. John’s today. So, as I continue to live the best life that I can, as I take pride in my role here at St. John’s, I can smile and laugh and feel like a beautiful person today.  St. John’s could always see my potential, and all that I could become. I couldn’t truly see what they saw in me until I simply heard what they kept telling me, that I matter! They never gave up on me and waited patiently for me to see what they have always told me through the years, but I never believed? THAT I MATTER!

Barb:  I am also a parishioner at St. John’s church. I was on the church council back when St John’s was COTS. I had no idea there was even a population of people who didn’t have a place to live, sleep, or even eat? It gave our parish a great mission! Let’s help those most in need! After all, isn’t that what religion should be?  So we formed groups to feed, clothe and shelter. With this comes people who need to have laundry, wash up, basic needs met. There weren’t mats back then, people slept on the floor, but were provided a nice hot meal in a warm place. Now it’s grown into 3 locations, St. John’s, Micah Center, and Wellspring. All three locations ensure people’s needs are met by feeding them, help find employment, counseling, teaching/training, finding housing and learning to live on their own! It’s amazing to see the transformation of guests, when their confidence and self esteem is back! Now, some of the guests who once needed help are offering their help to current guests! It takes a dedicated staff and a whole lot of volunteers to make this all work! I have been serving meals there from inception and what a wonderful feeling you get knowing you’ve help fill a very hungry stomach! Or when guests come back for seconds and thirds, hear them say: this tastes so good! Thank you!

What do you think the issues are facing St. John’s through the COVID-19 crisis?

Berta:  One of the biggest issues is not being able to help all of our homeless brothers and sisters in the community as we have been. We are currently not accepting any new intakes right now due to quarantine, and that is hard on everyone. Another issue is so many people want to help or donate to our homeless family and we have had to limit those donations. Also, much of the staff is on quarantine at home and cannot be here like they wish to be.

Mark:  I know that this Pandemic has a lot of the guests worried about where they will sleep in the near future when the shelter closes for the season?  I know that there are a lot of unknowns in each of our lives, staff, and guests. We all can only take each day one day at a time. It warms my heart that so many people in the community have helped donate food, so we can eat. The YMCA has allowed us access to their building so we can shower daily. And Carrie, the laundry volunteer has made it possible for us to be able to put on clean clothes after our showers, and sleep in a nice clean bed.

Barb:  This came as a fast and furious change for St John’s! They had to shut down day operations, split staff between 2 locations, to prevent any type of full outbreak to all the guests! We were blessed to have Spring Lake Church downtown offer space for half our guests, so we could prevent the spread of the virus to a whole group. Local businesses came through, offering meals. We went from one meal a day, to 3 times a day! Current food teams have come through by still providing meals. Some of these meals will be breakfast or lunch for the next day.

How has the COVID-19 crisis changed your daily life?

Berta:  COVID-19 has changed my daily life immensely, as I am staying at shelter quarantined right alongside the guests. It is hard not being able to go home and be with family and friends there. I am unable to just go visit family members outside of my home as well. Also, wearing a mask and gloves all day every day was hard to get used to. I am a clean person, but didn’t used to disinfect as much as I do these days. So much has changed and sometimes it is very depressing not even being able to go for a walk. I have also started meditating on a daily basis in order to help with some of the depression and anxiety I feel right now knowing staff and guests that I have been close with are struggling with COVID-19 right now.

Mark:  I have had to cancel my Volunteering for the Wisconsin Humane Society. I also have not been able to engage in my weekly Church service at Spring Lake Church. But I am able to watch the live service which is streamed every week which is awesome service in person which I miss. I have been able to watch the live service streamed over the internet which has been a great help. I can’t give old friends I see a hug or even shake a friend’s hand due to the social distancing rules. I would rather pass on physical contact, than a chance of getting sick. I have come to really admire and respect all the staff here because, throughout the worst possible times in possibly everyone’s lives here, they risk getting sick to meet our basic needs of food, shelter, and well-being. This is where their services simply start. They do everything in their power to make our lives all that they can be in every way. They go above and beyond, and my life has changed through all this by being so thankful for everything I have today, or should I say thankful for EVERYONE I have in my life today.

Barb:  It’s strange not being able to go out to eat, meet friends for lunch, be careful when shopping to keep your distance.

Have you been able to see any positives come out of this tragic time?

Berta:  The biggest positive I have seen come out of this is that the guests here are all working together now and they are all there for each other. It has been amazing watching how these guests are getting through this pandemic.

Mark:  I have seen the guests I live with here in the shelter come closer and get to know each other better. We all are struggling with our own fears and worry about our futures. Through all of this, I feel like the food tastes better, the laundry we get washed smells better, our showers are more relaxing, because we all are so very fortunate and thankful for everyone who has made our homeless stay here at Spring Lake Church as good as possible. I try to thank everyone more, enjoy all the beautiful blessings in my life today. I have had time to listen to others more and share more of my thoughts and feelings because of being in this Pandemic. The most positive thing through all of this is that I have become closer to God. I used to take so much for granted, whether it was a hot shower or a good meal. I have learned that the here and now is all we have. Our time here has made all of us get closer, we are family here.

Barb:  Yes! I have time to work in the yard, clean closets out (putting together boxes of things the shelter can use) seeing neighbors out walking and able to catch up with them, from a safe distance. Learning you can FaceTime or Zoom many people at one time!

How do you think St. John’s and the community can we best support our homeless brothers and sisters when this crisis is over?

Berta:  I think after the crisis is over the best way we can help is to meet needs of those we currently cannot help at this time. I think St John’s and the community could help by just being there for people that have been majorly affected by this pandemic; whether it be they lost someone to the virus or they just need to talk so they can get out of their depressed or anxiety stricken state of mind.

Mark:  The shelter and St. John’s could possibly allow the shelter season to be extended, if possible. For the guests to be able to save money for an apartment once the workforce opens back up. I hope one day that the community won’t have such a negative image of us homeless people. We are wonderful people that are full of happiness, joy, respect, and dignity. If people just would give everyone the chance to prove how worthy they are, you will see that life with St. John’s guests are pretty amazing! We are an amazing group of men! We have so much to offer the community if only you give us a chance.

Barb:   This whole thing has but a big strain on staff and monetary resources! This is not a small family to take care of! Check out St John’s website, pick up things they can use. There are benches outside that things can be dropped off without any contact. Volunteer! This is the heart of the mission. It can be as easy as an hour a month! Provide a meal. Bring treats to our guests and staff! Of course, money is always needed! We know things are tough for many, even a one time $5.00 donation will go a long way. Learn more about St John’s, you’ll find homeless people are just like people with homes! Some have addiction, some age out foster care, some are veterans that served our country, some lost jobs.They are a loving and giving people, they just need guidance and a hand up. This is where many hands make light work. Be the Good Samaritan, stop and help!