A Voice for the Good: Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network
3Rivers is proud to support so many of the non-profit organizations that are committed to making our community a better place to live, work, and play, and we want to help spread the word about the difference they're making in our region. We’ve teamed up with 97.3WMEE to bring you A Voice A Voice for the Good the Good, a series in which we feature local organizations on our website in the form of an informative articles as well as on-air segments highlighting the non-profits’ missions.
This article features Just Neighbors—a local non-profit on a mission to “to serve homeless families by uniting religious congregations, community volunteers and local agencies in a cooperative effort to provide shelter, meals, and compassionate, comprehensive professional support.”
We talked with Joshua Gale, Executive Director, to learn more about Just Neighbors and the work they’re doing in our region.
How did Just Neighbors come to be? What’s the history/story behind how the organization initially got started?
Just Neighbors (JN) was created in 1999 as a grassroots response to the need for emergency shelter for
homeless families in our community. Modeled on national programs promoting family stability and self- sufficiency, JN opened its doors to local families in November 2000. Originally, JN used available space in local churches to provide night-time shelter for families. Each morning, the families were transported to JN's day center in a small house in downtown Fort Wayne. The maximum daily capacity of the program was 14 individuals. In February 2009, JN moved to a new family center on State Street so that it could increase capacity to 40 clients and provide expanded on-site services. Since 2007, JN has more than doubled the number of families served annually. While other organizations provide emergency housing or individuals and transitional housing for families, JN is the only local shelter in Fort Wayne providing emergency housing that keeps the entire family unit together.
Volunteers from partner congregations, civic organizations, and business corporations still come to the family center to provide evening meals, fellowship, and programming for the families we know as our guests.
What is the official mission of Just Neighbors, and how is it currently being put into play?
Just Neighbors’ mission is “to serve homeless families by uniting religious congregations, community volunteers, and local agencies in a cooperative effort to provide shelter, meals, and comprehensive, compassionate, professional support."
As Fort Wayne's only emergency homeless shelter for families, we have a huge task before us in caring for families in crisis. We work alongside over 900 dedicated community volunteers from local congregations, corporations, and various civic organizations. We believe we have a truly innovative and intentionally collaborative model that not only works, but it also recognizes the dignity of all people.
Our core goal is to be on the front lines to provide shelter, compassionate advocacy and other necessities for families who are caught in the crisis of homelessness. We assist them to move toward independence and self-reliance as quickly as possible.
We work in two complementary areas: homelessness and homeless prevention. As a general reality, our clients are low-income or at least in economic crisis.
How do you see the mission and vision of Just Neighbors evolving in the future in the Northeast Indiana community? Where do you see your organization a year from now, or even five years from now?
We are currently looking at best practices in shelter models. A local congregation is remodeling an apartment for one of our families to occupy for 6-12 months as they continue to get back on their feet. This has us turning toward a more apartment-based shelter model instead of congregate shelter, which is the most common form of shelter. The program would place families experiencing homelessness into an apartment that operates the same as if they were in our congregate shelter—case manager meetings, chores, expectations for employment and general family welfare improvement. Should that family be able to continue in the program, they can rent the apartment independent of our program and use that as a springboard for housing stability.
Are there any exciting new developments, updates, or changes that have recently taken place at Just Neighbors?
Fort Wayne had been thirteenth in the nation for evictions for years based on the research by Matthew Desmond and the Eviction Lab. Thanks to our partnership with the courts and local nonprofits, we now no longer rank on leading evicting cities in any current research. In two years, our team has dismissed 2,876 evictions, reconciled tenants and landlords, and provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in rental assistance, in addition to changing the culture of eviction court in our region.
Could you share a standout story or two that really illustrates the impact Just Neighbors and/or its programs has on people in our community?
An example in the shelter:
Early in discussions with a family needing services, Mom decided that it would be more beneficial for her second, youngest child to stay elsewhere while she and her first child moved into the JN emergency shelter program. We certainly understand that it is very overwhelming coming into a new environment and having to navigate the stressful changes that homelessness causes, especially for young children. We honored Mom’s wishes to have the second child stay safely with another family member, but our JN case manager, with Mom’s help, developed a case plan with clear housing goals for the entire family unit and monitored Mom’s progress towards reaching those goals.
For example, Mom and our case manager worked with Fort Wayne Community Schools’ homeless liaisons to ensure that both children stayed at their school of origin—one attending from JN and the second from the family member’s home. This met the goal of ensuring the enrollment, attendance, and success of both youth in school.
Mom had several barriers that she had to overcome during the family’s stay at JN to ensure a positive outcome. The biggest obstacle was the history of an eviction on her record. Mom attended the eviction clinics sponsored by Just Neighbors, Indiana Legal Services, The Volunteer Legal Program, and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. This program allowed her to expunge the eviction from her record so that she could successfully be approved by a landlord.
Mom began work at a job that best suited her family’s needs. Mom and her case manager successfully enrolled our client in permanent housing assistance for herself and both children. They now live in a supportive atmosphere that has continued, ongoing assistance for the entire family.
An example at eviction court:
We met a 19-year-old young man who was at court for an eviction hearing. He explained that he lived in a furnished apartment while he attends college at Purdue University. During a routine apartment inspection, it was discovered that due to the tenant spilling a bottle of Pine-Sol on the couch, the couch needed replaced.
The complex replaced the couch and sent the tenant a bill for $700. The tenant sent a $250 payment and asked to set up payment arrangements to pay $200 per month. The complex refused the payment arrangement and demanded the bill be paid within 30 days as it stated in the lease. The tenant was not behind on rent. He was in foster homes most of his life and his rent was paid by the Department of Child Services while he was in college. The eviction was due to the tenant not being able to pay for a $700 couch within 30 days. We were able to connect the tenant to a lawyer at Indiana Legal Services and found a private donor who was happy to pay off the couch so this young man did not start his adult life with an eviction on his record. It took three weeks to get a statement from the landlord for the total amount owed to get the eviction removed and it was now $1,504 with fees. This was after his initial $250 payment. That is over $1,000 in various fees. This young man now has a better chance at creating a stable life without an eviction preventing him from securing future stable housing.
How can those interested in your services go about getting started or getting in touch?
A great place to start is emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are there other local non-profit organizations that Just Neighbors works/partners with to enhance their programs?
A shorter list would be those with whom we do not partner already. In court, we partner with Indiana Legal Services, Volunteer Lawyer Program, 145 landlords and more. Our outreach work partners directly with the HART Team, Project.me, Positive Resource Connection, Trinity English Lutheran Church, and 26 others to provide wraparound services every Wednesday. The food truck also has a similar list of partners and is used on Wednesdays as well. The shelter has a series of partnerships across the network including Vincent Village, The Rescue Mission, and many, many others.
Are there opportunities for community members to volunteer at Just Neighbors—and if so, how can they go about learning more?
Certainly. We can always use groups who want to come to the shelter and serve dinner for our guests. At that time, they can read to kids, help with their homework, and visit with the parents. When the weather is nicer, there are outside clean-up projects available. For the food truck, occasional groups to help us deep clean are always appreciated. Check out our Ways to Help Ways to Help page to learn more!
In what other ways can community members support Just Neighbors—be it through monetary donations, material donations, education, etc.? Do you have an itemized wish list of any kind or utilize options like AmazonSmile to raise funds?
Monetary donations are appreciated and are put to great use serving those in need throughout our city. But, in addition to that, the needs in the question above are ideal ways to get involved. Drives for supplies are appreciated; a list a list can be found out our website be found out our website.
Where can our readers learn more about Just Neighbors or about getting involved?
Interested in featuring your non-profit on our website and on 97.3WMEE’s A Voice for the Good? Text "VOICE" to 46862! Please note that this may lead you to incur standard text messaging rates or other applicable charges consistent with your wireless carrier/mobile phone plan.