TWIN FALLS | Nicki Kroese threw on her coat as she left her office and headed into the halls of The Salvation Army.
Keeping the thermostat turned down reduces overhead costs so funds can be redirected toward more important expenses, said Kroese, business manager of The Salvation Army.
“We choose to wear coats at work, so we can afford to buy hotel rooms for some of our clients who are out in the cold,” she said.
“It’s rare that (the homeless) ask for a room. Most won’t ask.”
But when a client pulls off his gloves revealing white, frostbitten fingers, Kroese said she knows it’s time to act.
It Takes a Community
It's hard to predict who will become homeless or why or how they can be helped. It could happen to anyone.
In the Magic Valley, some homeless are families. Some are veterans. Some are alcoholics or drug addicts. Some want help. Some don’t.
One thing is certain. The problem is getting worse.
“I’ve never seen more people in need, ever,” said Sharon Breshears, executive director of Valley House, a homeless shelter in Twin Falls. “There are people who don’t have running water in their homes. People that don’t have power. Desperate people in need.”
It's overwhelming for those trying to help.
“One agency can’t do it all,” said Lenorah Tsetsakis, director of Twin Falls’ CATCH program. “There are too many homeless people. It’s too big of a job and resources are spread too thin to do it alone.”
That’s why support organizations have developed partnerships in the community, Tsetsakis said.
The CATCH program gets referrals from Joann Gemar, at-risk services coordinator at Twin Falls School District. Last school year, Gemar identified 409 homeless students attending the 13 schools in the district.
CATCH, which stands for Charitable Assistance to Community’s Homeless, is a year-old program in Twin Falls. CATCH works in conjunction with the South Central Community Action Partnership and Valley House to provide housing for homeless families with children.
The program provides a cash deposit and four or five months of rent money to qualified families.
“Once they are housed, they are able to work on the circumstances that got them homeless in the first place,” Tsetsakis said. The CATCH program, which started in Boise in 2010, also helps clients find a job.
So far, CATCH has assisted more than two dozen families get into a home in Twin Falls, she said. But she has a waiting list of two dozen more.
Support for those in need comes in many forms, Kroese said. Some donate warm coats, food and money. Others volunteer time -- and lots of it.
Perhaps it’s because many people are “just one paycheck away from being homeless themselves,” she said.
Bob Rynbrand is a retired Navy veteran who volunteers every day at The Salvation Army.
“Bob comes in and helps out where we need him,” whether it’s helping clients to cars or socializing with the lunch crowd, Kroese said.
The organization serves free lunches to about 90 people every weekday.
“It’s amazing how many veterans are in the lunch line every day who won’t talk to anybody,” Rynbrand said. “I come in here with my (veterans) cap on, and they’ll talk to me when they won't talk to anyone else.”
The Salvation Army provides other services to the homeless, including hot showers and recreational opportunities. It also supplies qualified families with boxes of food.
As a “church-first” nonprofit organization, The Salvation Army isn’t limited to helping those who meet the usual poverty-level requirements.
“We help people who are in trouble who no other agency can help,” Kroese said.
Valley House, Breshears said, helps them with housing when she can and gives them food, clothing and blankets. When she can’t get them housing or a motel room, she gets them “a bus ticket to somewhere warm, just to get them off the streets.”