By Mickey Schommer
GREEN BAY – The New Community Shelter is a local shelter for Brown County that focuses on responsibility and accountability.
This year, the nonprofit is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Green Bay.
In addition to housing, this facility provides educational programming, mentorship and a reliable community meal program.
The residents of New Community Shelter are placed with case managers who specialize in training and helping residents to reach their goals.
Whether it’s managing mental health, addressing addiction, or improving finances, the shelter seeks to work with residents to attain healthy goals.
“As long as you’re improving, you’re welcome,” the shelter advocates.
One of the most important aspects of helping the residents of New Community Shelter is providing “toolkits” for residents to use throughout their lifetime — even after they move out of the shelter. Educational programming is a cornerstone of their facility.
The shelter offers a wide variety of classes for their residents including a “Rent Smart” class, which teaches the residents how to communicate with neighbors, how to be a good tenant and how to budget.
Their “Employment Readiness” program is hosted to teach residents about employability, such as how to fill out online applications, how to present oneself to employers and how to build a resume.
The facility will even invite other community members to teach about life skills if they have the background for it.
Community Outreach Coordinator Jim Schmidt said that if someone has an idea for a class or a series of them, the shelter is more than willing to entertain it.
The goal at New Community Shelter is to get residents connected with the community.
In addition to educational programming, New Community Shelter offers a daily meal program that has never been cancelled — no matter the weather.
Dinner is served daily while lunch is served by the Salvation Army down the road.
However, if the building is closed — usually on holidays — the shelter will provide lunch.
“Even during COVID-19,” explained Olson, “we never missed a meal.”
Through the community meal program, case managers can connect with people who need care if they aren’t already staying at the shelter.
“A lot of times, we’ll have people who are like, ‘Yeah, I can eat today!’ because we know that they usually aren’t able to eat with us,” said Olson. “We try to get them engaged. A lot of times were building a lot of different relationships with people who aren’t staying here that probably should because of mental health or addiction.
“If someone is under the influence and they can’t eat in our dining room, we’ll give them a bagged lunch. ‘Try again tomorrow.’”
The residents at New Community Shelter are held to strict standards, but it allows for the facility to uphold its zero-tolerance policies and creates an environment that is less triggering for those suffering from addiction.
The shelter has a strict curfew and does breathalyzer tests to ensure that this policy is being maintained.
“We’re very transparent with everything. If we say we’re zero-tolerance, we’re going to mean it, so that’s why we breathalyze people. That’s why we do outside drug testing. That’s why we provide the services to help with those issues,” Olson added.
“It’s more of a tough-love approach to how you would deal with homelessness, but it works. That’s how we raise our kids – we have expectations.
“Our program is [about] helping people so they don’t get in that situation again.
“Do people relapse? Absolutely. But when they relapse, they get asked to leave (for 30 days), but that’s the consequence. [The residents] always know what to expect. [They] know what the rules are.”
Olson emphasizes accountability as the single most important aspect of the shelter.
Despite this “tough-love approach,” Olson noted that the residents prefer it to a more relaxed policy.
“They’re here because they’re working on themselves. They don’t want to be next to someone who’s been drinking because that’s triggering.”
New Community Shelter also makes an effort to work with individuals who are afraid of becoming homeless, who are currently homeless and after homelessness.
“We make sure to extend our services for as long as a person needs them,” said Olson.
“You can always come back. We never end our services.”
Olson recognizes that many people don’t want to talk about homelessness because it’s uncomfortable.
However, ignorance often creates misconceptions.
“I was a person that, at one time in my life, said, ‘Well, people just need to get a job,’’” said Olson. “I’m very embarrassed and humbled by that now that I could be so ignorant to think that that is the problem — that they just need to get a job — because most of our people here are working at least one job —they’re just not making enough to make ends meet. They might have eviction debt, or medical debt, fines; there are a lot of different reasons why.”
New Community Shelter serves its residents with more than just housing, providing educational programming and mentorship under a zero-tolerance policy that promotes accountability and responsibility.
For more information, visit https://newcommunityshelter.org/Ways-to-Help/Wish-List or email [email protected].