by Jacqueline Rachev

The Salvation Army in Chicago has opened the nation’s first rapid-response emergency homeless assessment and response center addressing the needs of families in crisis. In partnership with the
City of Chicago, the center expands upon the Army’s full range of services for the homeless population.

Through an innovative service model, the Shield of Hope will triage and assess families who are homeless and help them find more stable living situations within 14 days. This could include living with family or friends or finding affordable housing more suitable to their needs and situation.

When necessary, the facility can provide shelter for as many as 75 individuals. “We will be able to provide shelter, food and warmth, the basics,” said Colonel Charles Smith, divisional commander. “But our greatest desire is that within this facility families will be able to find a sense of security. To experience a sense of dignity, worth and, more importantly, a sense of hope for a better future as they transition to a life of increased stability.”

The Shield of Hope is designed to provide a home-like atmosphere for families with private bedrooms and bathrooms. There is a study room for children to do homework and other projects, laundry rooms and a play area. There also is a communal dining area with a warming kitchen.

Meals are provided by the Freedom Center, and if parents work until late, a meal will be kept warm for them. Families also will have access to an array of services at the Freedom Center, including recreational and educational classes for children, social service programs, food services, job training and treatment for substance abuse.

Indeed, more than temporary shelter, the Shield of Hope will serve as an entry point to a greater array of programs designed to help people through crisis and set them up to better navigate their future. Once a family finds permanent housing, they will be connected with the nearest corps to continue support services including afterschool activities, a food pantry and worship services. The design is a larger holistic approach to provide love, compassion and hope for those most in need.

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