- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - The Yankton Homeless Shelter has been serving the community since 1994. However, a new location and expanded services spurred the non-profit to seek a new name that encompassed all the work it was doing.

The choice: Pathways Shelter for the Homeless, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (https://bit.ly/2mcHqVx ) reported.

“‘Pathways’ - the new name - felt that it encompassed all that we do,” said executive director Jesse Bailey. “We are a pathway along (our client’s) line, so we can help get them back on the path to success.

“‘Yankton Homeless Shelter’ just didn’t quite encompass all that we were doing. We wanted a more positive connotation with the name and we wanted something where the clients could be proud that they are staying here. So, they can say they are staying not at the homeless shelter, but instead, ‘I am staying at Pathways until I get back on my feet.’”

Bailey said that he hopes with the name change, people ask, “Why?”

“We want them to know that we try to be all-encompassing, that we are not just a warm place for people to lay their heads at night,” he said. “We provide, food, clothing, everything they need so they don’t have to spend their own money, but we want people to know that we work really hard to get our clients back on their feet. That it is a hand u,p not a hand-out.”

He said the shelter is not meant to be a long-term home. The shelter’s main goal is to get anyone who needs its services into a permanent home.

“We are a first-come, first-served location,” Bailey said. “We want people in this area who are struggling to become productive citizens and get back in the work force.”

The biggest change in the history of the organization - the purchase of the new shelter facility at 412 E. Fourth Street (the former Starbright Motel) - has allowed the group to expand its services. However, its most basic service, providing a home for the homeless, is growing exponentially.

“I think homelessness is something they knew was always going to be here and that they needed a larger facility,” said Bailey, who took on his role in July 2015. “(In the past), they were not only turning people away because of limited space, they were spending a lot of money on motel rooms.”

To look at 2015 and 2016 in comparison:

. In 2015, there were 228 clients served, for a total of 2,580 shelter nights. However, there were just under 2,000 nights in the shelter and about 600 nights in the motel.

. In 2016, there were 400 clients served, for 5,380 shelter nights, with just 100 nights in motel rooms.

“I think with . the bigger facility, you can serve more clients and hopefully be a better help for the issue of homelessness in the community,” Bailey said. “I think the community has recognized that. There has been a positive increase in the support from the community and the partnerships that we have been creating with various organizations. We have been able to provide better services to the clients that have come in here, and they need that.”

Bailey said currently, the shelter can house 48 people.

“We have four rooms that can fit families of six or more,” he said. “We have two full-size beds in those rooms and we can bring in cots if we need to fit more in there. They have two rooms, so they are a bit bigger. We have a laundry room on site for all of the clients to use for free. Then we have rooms that have two single beds. We do try to give individuals their own rooms if we are not full. Then two rooms have queen beds, which we try to use for a married couple or a small family of three.”

While providing shelter is the main service provided, others include administering an Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and connecting clients with other service agencies in town.

“We have an ESG that is administered by the South Dakota Housing Authority, which allows us to run two programs for those in need,” Bailey said. “We offer a homeless prevention program, where individuals who may be short on rent and have received an eviction notice, can call us and say, ‘Hey, this is happening, can you guys help?’”

The program does require the client to meet both an income guideline and a fair market rent value to qualify.

“That program allows us to pay rent arrears, so if they are late on rent or will be late on upcoming rents, we can pay that and also help with utilities,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to help them to stay in their house.”

The second part of the ESG program is rapid rehousing.

“Once people do experience homelessness - they are evicted, they have no place to go - they can stay here for as long as it takes for us to find them an apartment that they can afford,” Bailey said. “We will be able to cover their first month’s rent, deposit, utilities, that kind of thing that will allow them to get out of here more quickly and back on their feet. Hopefully, by that time they will have found work and have their own income. But, that way they don’t have to save up.”

In 2015, there were 22 clients with just under $9,000 provided in ESG program services. In 2016, the program had 158 clients and spent more than $24,000.

The average stay at the homeless shelter is less than four weeks, Bailey noted. He added that the shelter’s success rate is right around 85 percent, even with the increased numbers seen in 2016. If the first few weeks of 2017 are anything to go by, the demand will continue to rise.

“In winter months, our numbers have typically been low, right around 15-20 nights per month,” he said. “We blew those numbers right out of the water this year in November and December. January is already looking to be a busy month. We are practically full. We have a few spots where we could double people up, but that is it. An average month we had, say, 28, but we have been seeing more than 30 every month for the past five months.”

He also noted the success of the shelter is in big part because of the willingness of the community to give people a second chance.

“I would say more than half of our clients have some kind of a criminal history,” Bailey said. “They have burnt bridges. It is very hard when you don’t have a past good reference to get work. So, they have to find places in town that haven’t heard about them or are willing to give them a second chance. There is a negative connotation when people see your background, but most of the clients we serve just want that second chance.”

While the name change is happening immediately, Bailey noted that the open house to celebrate it will not be held until April when the shelter can utilize its outdoor area. Until that time, he said the staff can give tours of the facility.

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/

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