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City sidewalks stories of homelessness

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The reasons someone is homeless varies drastically – but something all experiencing homelessness have in common is it doesn’t define who they are.

“The guests who come to St. John’s Homeless Shelter are so much more than a singular identity of homeless,” said Alexa Priddy, St. John’s director of community engagement. “Each person is someone’s son or daughter, each person has hopes and dreams and qualities that make them unique.”

The See Me campaign, sponsored by the St. John’s Homeless Shelter, The Micah Center and Wellspring, aims at raising awareness of the homeless in the Green Bay area by using the sidewalks to tell stories.

St. John’s joined forces with the City of Green Bay to install eight images on sidewalks throughout the city – each telling the story of someone served by one of St. John’s three programs.

“We hope families will come downtown to events, look for the sidewalk images and connect with the stories and the people,” said Laura Schley, public arts coordinator for the City of Green Bay.

Priddy said homelessness affects more people in Green Bay than many realize.

From Nov. 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019, St. John’s served 445 individuals.

St. John’s two daytime drop-in centers – The Micah Center and Wellspring for women – collectively served more than 1,000 individuals this past year.

“We know that we have a community that cares deeply and gives back, but it can still be easy to forget that homelessness is a serious issue in Green Bay,” Priddy said.

Homelessness is often described as a community issue that requites a community solution.

Staff at the shelter and the folks behind the See Me campaign couldn’t agree more.

“When you read the sidewalk graphics, you connect to each person,” Priddy said. “You realize we all share more commonalities than we do differences.”

Priddy said the campaign helps connect the community to their neighbors that are experiencing homelessness, and she said it doesn’t stop there.

“(The See Me campaign) asks everyone to be part of the solution to homelessness in our community,” Priddy said. “By going to our website, anyone can find a step they can take – from signing up for email updates to volunteering or hosting a lemonade stand with their family. We want everyone to know that there are important things they can do today.”

Mayor Eric Genrich, St. John’s Executive Director Alexia Wood and many others behind the effort unveiled the See Me campaign Thursday, July 25, in front of City Hall.

The images will remain installed on city sidewalks for the remainder of the summer.

Organizers said the images are meant to give a voice to those often overlooked because of the situation they are in.

“We walk alongside the guests we serve on their journey, and we know just how powerful their voices are – they need to be heard,” Priddy said.

The locations of all eight images can be found on the shelter’s website, here.

St. John shelter is independent non-profit

For more than a decade, the St. John’s Evangelist Homeless Shelter has been a member of the greater Green Bay community – providing support to those who are struggling with homelessness and creating positive change in the area.

The shelter opened its doors back in 2005 when a need in the community presented itself.

St. John’s provides night-to-night temporary emergency shelter to adult men and women.

Programs and services are also offered to assist each guest in goal attainment and self-sufficiency.

That was done all this under the umbrella of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay – that is until recently.

St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, Inc., will no longer operate as a corporation of the Diocese.
The shelter is now its own 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Wood said becoming its own independent, non-profit was a culmination of years of work by both the shelter and the Diocese.

Over the last 14 years, St. John’s has developed into its own self-sustaining agency, with its own governance model and three locations – the shelter; The Micah Center, a daytime resource center; and Wellspring, the equivalent, but for women.

Throughout the process, shelter staff and board members met with city staff and representatives from various departments and organizations to make the transition as smooth as possible.

At a city council meeting earlier this month, alders showed support for the shelter’s independence by unanimously approving an amendment to the shelter’s conditional use permit (CUP).

The amendment changes the permit to list just the shelter as the holder of the CUP.

Wood said the shelter wanted to ensure the CUP language accurately reflected the shelter’s independent status.

Shelter staff are confident that the transition to independence will open doors for additional ecumenical partnerships in the community – without changing the day-to-day operations of the shelter.

Wood said the Diocese will remain a trusted supporter, and to maintain that strong partnership, Bishop David Ricken will appoint a diocesan representative to the shelter’s board of directors.

For more information on the shelter, The Micah Center or Wellspring, visit stjohnhomelessshelter.org.

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