Shelter Care: Lending a Helping Hand For 35 Years

This benevolent organization has spent 35 years providing hope, care and plenty of love for homeless people around the Rockford area.

Shelter Care, in Rockford, provides guidance and support to the local homeless community through its three core programs. The organization has helped an estimated 10,000 people over the years. (Amy Ryan photo)
Shelter Care, in Rockford, provides guidance and support to the local homeless community through its three core programs. The organization has helped an estimated 10,000 people over the years. (Amy Ryan photo)

Shelter Care has been giving the local homeless community hope, care and guidance for 35 years and it doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“There’s been a need in the area, and we’ve received years of funding and support, whether it’s from grant funding, foundations, fundraisers and generous donors,” says Sarah Parker-Scanlon, executive director. “When someone gives us money, they’re also giving money to the community, because no one wants to live in a community where you see homeless families on the street.”

In more than three decades, Parker-Scanlon estimates the organization has helped roughly 10,000 people.

Shelter Care, 218 Seventh St., Rockford, has a daily mission to assist people in need as they struggle with hardships associated with poverty, addiction, abuse and mental illness in Winnebago and Boone counties.

The organization also provides service programs and community education with the help and support of volunteers.

“The services we provide are pretty holistic, and it’s something other organizations can’t always do,” Parker-Scanlon says. “My staff will help any way they can, and they’ll make sure you have every piece of documentation that you need, whether you need identification, a social security card or a birth certificate. We’ll do whatever it takes to help.”

The program started as a soup kitchen at Emmanuel Episcopal Church back in 1981. Church leaders at the time realized more help and services were needed to support the homeless families in the area. Shelter Care was established in 1984 as an outreach ministry of the church, which was in response to the growing number of homeless people in the area.

The program became unincorporated in 1985, and received a $24,000 grant for a six-month pilot program. That pilot program has blossomed into a 35-year run.

Shelter Care’s staff is small, but mighty. They only have 14 employees, but they’re able to help those in need through three core programs: supportive housing, the Jubilee Center and Mother’s and Youth Attaining Stability, or MAYA’s House.

The supportive housing program seeks to get people off the street or out of communal shelters by offering families that are going through homelessness an opportunity to rebuild their lives. It has private rentals spread across Rockford and the duration of a person’s stay varies. Housing ranges from a month to two years.

There’s also a permanent supportive housing program for families that can go well beyond two years.

“It’s important for people to have somewhere safe to stay,” Parker-Scanlon says. “They shouldn’t have to sleep on a park bench because they don’t have any other options.”

Shelter Care housed 27 families in November alone. Parker-Scanlon says the housing available through Shelter Care is a cut above other organizations.

“Our housing program offers a multitude of housing for homeless families – it’s housing and apartments scattered throughout the city,” Parker-Scanlon says. “We have emergency housing, but it’s not in a communal shelter. We’ve made great strides in trying to house the homeless as quickly as possible, so people don’t have to be without a home for several months.”

Families who are homeless have to contact the Homeless Single Point of Entry program through the City of Rockford to receive these services. It’s a program that’s the first point of contact for the homeless.

“They’ll get on a list at the Single Point of Entry, so when we have an opening, we’ll send them a referral, they’ll send us a couple names, and we’ll see who’s in need and get them moved in.”

Another Shelter Care program is the Jubilee Center, 413 N. Court St, Rockford. It offers a safe place for adults to socialize and build relationships.

It began as an outreach ministry of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in the 1980s and it’s since blossomed into an integral part of Shelter Care.

“Back then, our downtown looked a lot different than what it is now,” Parker-Scanlon says. “There were people out ambling around with nowhere to go, and this has certainly made a difference to downtown because it gives people somewhere to go. This center is safe, and it’s a destination for people.”

Anyone who comes to the Jubilee Center will step into a caring environment that’s full of hospitality and kindness. Parker-Scanlon says the Jubilee Center is like it’s own community.

People in the program can enjoy various activities and hot meals, and they’re able to participate in various social events. They’re also invited to attend community functions, and if you need transportation, it’s always provided.

“That center doesn’t provide housing, but there’s food and a pool table that’s pretty popular,” Parker-Scanlon says. “Everyone knows each other – they look out for each other and they form friendships. When you go over there, you’re part of the family.”

The Jubilee Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

A third service available through Shelter Care is MAYA’s House, located inside United Methodist Church, 215 N. Court St, Rockford. MAYA’s House, which was formed by the Junior League of Rockford in 2003, is a drop-in center for children up to 5-years-old. The doors open Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m. and close at 1:30 p.m.

It’s a calm, pleasant and nurturing environment that keeps children safe and cared for while their parents look for a place to live, find a job or get the necessary education and training they need to be successful.

“This is a free daycare, and if families are experiencing some type of homelessness, they can show up and find out about the various guidelines,” Parker-Scanlon says.

Children participating in the program are offered breakfast, healthy snacks and lunch. Families can also receive clothing and supplies. Crusader Community Health provides onsite care and the Knights of Columbus provides bread each Tuesday morning.

Parker-Scanlon and her staff plan to help families in need for years to come. People who’ve been down on their luck appreciate the services the organization provides.

“Being poor is time consuming between getting food stamps, going to the public aid office and doing everything else you have to do,” Parker-Scanlon says. “Having someone help you navigate those things makes a big difference to people.”