The term “homeless shelter” conjures up images of soup kitchens, cots and cold tile. Lillian Bartee imagined these same things when she found herself without a home or job, and preparing to enter The Salvation Army’s Family Haven, but came to find that Family Haven was anything but cold. Lillian’s story is one of how the structure and loving environment of a Salvation Army shelter could serve as the launch pad for greater personal success.
Walking into any of Family Haven, the largest family shelter in St. Louis County, visitors are greeted by bible verses and positive affirmations painted on the walls, and the smell of a wholesome home-cooked meal wafting from a kitchen. Every resident is provided their own bed and families have their own room, which many have decorated with crafts and photographs. A play center just off the main entrance has walls adorned with Thomas the Tank Engine, dolphins, inspirational quotes and art. A book nook with pillows and blankets sits adjacent to a computer lab for adults and children alike to find quiet space to read. In short, nothing about this shelter fits the stereotype, and many people who previously had nothing are proud to call it home.
Lillian grew up in St. Louis and never imagined she would find herself in a homeless shelter, but after a series of trying circumstances, including family turmoil, the death of her parents and the loss of a job she loved, she found herself living in her car. She entered the Family Haven shelter, where she quickly realized the opportunity before her.
During her stay at Family Haven, Lillian saved the required 80 percent of her income, and used all the resources provided to her to actively job search. She attended meetings, biblical devotions and worship services. All residents at Family Haven are provided opportunities for therapy, medical care, classes, tutoring and more. During her stay, Lillian came to grow close with the staff, who encouraged her at every step along the way.
“I worked the system. I took advantage of every opportunity they gave me. [The system] was put into place because it works,” she recalls.
Nearing the end of her stay, Lil wondered where she might stay when the 120 day program came to an end. She had been able to secure unemployment benefits, but had not yet been successful in finding permanent employment or housing. Her case worker at Family Haven found an opening at The Salvation Army’s Railton residence, an apartment building in downtown St. Louis that offers downtown living at an affordable price for those who need it. Much to her surprise, Lillian was approved for the apartment.
“I was excited to find a place,” says Lillian, “but I still needed stable income.” Lillian had worked tirelessly to apply for jobs and network through the Family Haven program, but had not yet found a position that would grant her long-term security. “On the day that I moved into the apartment, my phone rang and I was offered a position at Enterprise Holdings… on that very day.”
“Everything fell into place. I had nothing, and within days I had hope for a new life, my own home and a job,” says Lillian, who attributes her success to diligence, drive and the grace of God. “You have to accept the blessing you got. You have to be diligent and you have to want something in order to achieve it.”
The Family Haven shelter provides emergency shelter to homeless people for up to four months, and services to build a permanent foundation for the people they serve. In 2010, 321 individuals were served through Family Haven’s social services.
Residents admitted to the shelter are connected with a network of people that help them restore every area of their life. From the minutia of daily life such as participating in daily chores, to the largest issues such as overcoming mental illness, the staff at Family Haven works to help their clients end the cycle of poverty restore order to otherwise uncertain lives. In 2010, 49 individuals received permanent housing placement, while untold others were helped with transitional housing. More than 23,000 nights of lodging are provided to those in need through Family Haven each year alone.
“I am so thankful to The Salvation Army for all they have done for me,” she says. Lillian continues to work and restore her life. In time, she hopes to help others in the same way that The Salvation Army helped her.