The shelter continues to evolve

Keywords: Poll question,

By Dale Shrull

Journal Staff Writer

The people behind the Bridge Emergency Shelter, including its board of directors, rarely stop searching for ways to improve the organization’s services.

This year, the shelter shifted to a divided facility, separating intoxicated and sober clients.

Another big change, and improvement to the shelter this season was the partnership with Axis Health System. An Axis mental health and addictions counselor comes to the shelter two or three days a week, and is available to both clients and staff.

“Many clients are struggling with mental distress whether it’s coupled with substance abuse or not,” Bridge Executive Director Sara Wakefield said. “Counselors have spent as much time with sober clients as with intoxicated clients.

“We tried a few approaches before, and we all decided that the best, most effective thing to do would be to have a counselor at the shelter,” she said.

Representatives from Axis didn’t return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Wakefield said it’s still up to the individual to make the decision to seek counseling. One area the shelter is addressing is how to accommodate families in need of shelter. The facility is not currently set up to allow families to stay at the shelter.

“This is something that we are discussing for the future,” Wakefield said. “We have determined that it can’t happen in the current facility.”

The issue of accommodating families is massive, she added, and it would require more staff, a different location and a great deal more funding.

As for the current shelter, Wakefield said they are looking at the possibility of increasing the hours and number of months the shelter is open.

Right now, the facility is housed in the old jail and rent is donated by the county. The shelter is open from mid-October to mid-April from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Adding a fully functioning kitchen is another goal.

“We had hoped we could build our own kitchen at the shelter this season but that’s a complicated process,” said MB McAfee, who chairs the board of directors. “We continue to rely on Grace’s and Hope’s kitchens for our evening meals. The generous cooks at our soup kitchens have been making two gallons of soup every weeknight for the Bridge for six winters.”

McAfee, who has helped grow the shelter from its infancy, said she sees more growth for the future.

“My vision for the Bridge is that we become a year-round facility with the capacity to continue to serve homeless and stranded adults, plus being able to serve families who find themselves without safe places to stay,” she said.

She even sees the possibility of adding a fee structure for the facility.

“As our organization grows and programs evolve we look forward to developing policies and procedures where clients pay us a nominal fee for staying at the shelter,” she said.

It’s been McAfee’s vision and passion that have helped the shelter develop into the community beacon of hope that it is today.

“I want the Bridge to be just that, a bridge from hopelessness and loneliness to self-sufficiency and healthy relationships,” she said.