Shelter residents find homes of their own

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Many of us enjoy spending Christmas with our friends and families. But Terry Miller and Val Livingston would rather be alone.

Dr. Miller is the executive director of the Suffolk Shelter for the Homeless, which does all it can to help the city’s less fortunate find safe, comfortable, and healthy residences. Livingston, who holds the same position at the Genieve Shelter for battered women, hopes to find permanent shelter for families that have been hurt by domestic violence.

For her part, Miller has reason to be upbeat about the upcoming holidays; in the past few weeks, three of the shelter’s four families have found homes of their own.

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&uot;Most people like to be in a place of their own on a major holiday,&uot; Miller said. &uot;We have a pretty aggressive program of working with residents, having them look at all of their income, and figure out how much money per month can be spent on housing. Then a person can start looking at places in their income bracket.&uot;

It’s at this point that a person’s mistakes in the past can come back to haunt them, she continues. &uot;The people who come here usually have negative rental histories, so they have few options, and we really depend on the kindness and understanding of landlords who have been willing to work with them, which is always really hard.&uot;

Though it is the center’s purpose to aid its residents in finding true homes, one shelter can and will only do so much.

&uot;When we have done everything that we can do, and they still don’t do their part, then there’s really nothing we can do for them.

Though the shelter receives funding from the state government and several churches, clubs, corporations, and individuals, homeless people aren’t popular for donations. &uot;The reason that we don’t have a lot of people here now is because our funding is down, and there isn’t a large amount of money to take care of these people.

&uot;Homeless shelters suffer from huge public relations problems; perception is we’re taking care of drunks, derelicts, whatever, simply not the case. Doesn’t seem to matter how much I go to talk about our shelter to the public. People view the homeless problem as one of a person’s own making, and feel that they don’t have to contribute to a person who is homeless as fault of their own.

&uot;There’s also a lot of competing for resources. For example, people don’t want to give funding to something like a homeless shelter as opposed to something like an arts and cultural center.&uot;

Livingston’s organization also relies on outsiders to help bring a merry Christmas to Genieve occupants. It’s why Christmas is her favorite time of the year.

&uot;We have groups that will call us to &uot;adopt&uot; families. Our mothers and children make lists of what they want for Christmas, and we give the organizations a list of fake names to protect their identity,&uot; explained Livingston. &uot;They try to buy things on the list for families, Last year , a church-oriented youth group adopted a family of five, and collected $1,100 throughout the year. The mom had asked for a leather coat, and her two sons wanted bikes. The group bought them everything on list.&uot;

On Christmas Eve, the church group tried to make Dec. 25 even more realistic. &uot;They took it to the house at 11:30 p.m., like they were really Santa Claus,&uot; Livingston laughed. &uot;The family was beyond ecstatic.&uot;

Each child usually gets a couple of items, but nothing like this!&uot;

Last year, the Surry Power Plant adopted 15 families, and bought so many presents that they had to rent a moving truck to get everything to the tenants. &uot;It’s unbelievable how generous people can be, especially when things are as tough for everyone as they are,&uot; Livingston said. &uot;Christmas is the best time of the year, because people are so generous. They don’t care that these people don’t find out who they are, because they just want to do something nice.&uot;