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Mission House is ‘the little engine’ for Beaches area homeless

Mission House is ‘the little engine’ for Beaches area homeless

Jane McIntosh sees people from all walks of life sit in the plastic chair across from her desk from 10 a.m. to noon, each with one thing in common: Homelessness. How she helps each of them get out of it is different.

As Mission House’s social service manager, she is their first step in getting off the street and back into a place they can call home.

Some have a place to stay but need steady jobs. Others are working odd jobs to save for a place they can call their own. A few just need a way back to friends or family out of state.

Whatever their goal, McIntosh guides them through Mission House’s resources to reach it. She has a spreadsheet with each of her clients’ names, what they want to do to better their lives and where they are with those goals.

McIntosh and Carmen Whisler, Mission House’s second case manager and a licensed clinical social worker, saw 25 people as clients last month. Within this year, the two of them have helped 59 people get housing.

“I consider this the little engine that could,” said McIntosh. “This agency does so much, it’s amazing. People are moving forward a little at a time. Sometimes it’s slow, but they’re moving forward.”

It’s all part of what she and other staff members call a “hand-up” system.

Help is only given when the client asks for it, and is willing to do the work involved to land that job or a place of their own. Both help these clients through a “hand-up” system of their own, working with Mission House’s partners Salvation Army, Sulzbacher Center, BEAM, Jewish Service Families, Community Connection, Catholic Charities, Changing Homelessness and other local organizations to connect people with rental assistance, veterans’ benefits, housing programs, counseling for those with a mental illness or addiction, employment help and more.

The organization runs a daily meal and shower program, a health clinic and a case management program in its building on 800 Shetter Ave.

People can visit Monday through Friday for a shower, fresh clothes and a hot meal in the morning or evening.

Executive Director Lori Anderson said that the organization feeds between 50 and 60 people every meal, and helps clothe and feed 30 percent of women and 70 percent of homeless men in the Beaches area. If a person consistently visits to use its shower and meal program, then staff will talk to them and have them fill out paperwork to register with them as a client. When to use the case management program is up to the individual.

Forty percent of Mission House’s clients are veterans and 50 percent of its clients have mental health issues.

Like the people it helps, Mission House also underwent a transformation.

Founded in 1997 by four local churches, the organization operated from two small buildings. In the beginning, it only offered daily showers and meals, with a small clinic added soon after it opened. It operated as an island unto itself until Anderson became executive director six years ago.

Through fostering relationships with Jacksonville, Neptune and Atlantic Beach city governments and networking with other local organizations, Mission House expanded to a two-story facility and four exam-room clinic last year.

Along with the four clinic rooms, the new facility has an office for a part-time nurse practitioner, a medical closet to prescribe and provide medications to patients, two counselor rooms, a case manager office and plans to replace the kitchen with new equipment and appliances.

Anderson said that the expansion helped the agency provide services to more people and adapt to the changing face of homelessness.

“The face of homelessness has changed,” said Anderson. “Because of the economy and because of things going on, people who thought that it would never happen to them, it happens. That’s why we’re here. To help them out with plan B.”

Since the recession, Anderson said the homeless count at the beaches has gone down from 250 to 180 people. She credits that to the partnership with the Sulzbacher Center’s homeless veterans housing program and connecting homeless vets to jobs.

Anderson plans to continue networking with other local non-profits, and wants to broaden the organization’s network of volunteers to include people to assist case managers, prepare new homes or apartments for clients, run the organization’s closet or kitchen, pick up food donations, staff the front desk and assist preparations for Mission House’s annual fundraising events.

“We are supported literally by our community. People who volunteer, people who come and donate, whether that be items or money,” said Anderson. “We wouldn’t be here without them. And we need to be here.”

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