by Camerin Mattson
National Commander Commissioner David Hudson finished a three-city “Fight for Good Tour” in Chicago with visits to the Shield of Hope and Freedom Center. The tour, which also included stops in Los Angeles and Atlanta, highlighted unique ways The Salvation Army is addressing homelessness and specific needs in each community.
The visit commenced with a round table at Shield of Hope, the emergency homeless assessment and response center the Army opened in 2018 in partnership with the City of Chicago. Commissioner Hudson discussed the realities of homelessness in Chicago with city officials, Sabrina Kiser, assistant director of social services and public policy coordinator at National Headquarters, leaders and key staff from the Metropolitan Division and Chief Secretary Colonel Steve Howard.
They talked about the need for shelters that allow families to stay together, like the Shield of Hope does, as well as the importance of partnerships to tackle the complex issues of homelessness. “There’s a level of trust between the city and the Army,” said Commissioner Barry Swanson, who currently leads the Metropolitan Division with his wife, Commissioner Sue Swanson. “This is a very important partnership.” Alisa Rodriguez, deputy commissioner of homeless programs, heartily agreed, adding the city regularly gathers partners, including The Salvation Army, to discuss and learn from each other. Her colleague Jonathan Ernst, managing deputy commissioner, praised the breadth of the Army’s programs. “Of 360 agencies we partner with, only a handful cover all the areas we do; The Salvation Army is one of those.”
The party toured the Shield of Hope, which served more than 4,300 people in its first year, then walked to the Freedom Center which houses three key programs: Pathway Forward, a federally funded halfway house; Harbor Light, a substance abuse treatment program; and a corps community center, including a food pantry, afterschool programs and base for a canteen that makes 25 stops to feed people throughout Chicago every day.
Majors Merrill and Nancy Powers, Freedom Center directors, gave a tour during which the group heard from staff members and people who’ve been helped, including Nathan, who has been in a penitentiary four times but has found sobriety and a better life with help from the Army. “They want the best for you,” he said. Commissioner Hudson praised the “incredible, comprehensive programs” at the Freedom Center. “It would be easier to list the things they don’t do,” he said.
Lastly, the group visited a canteen stop, where staff and volunteers distributed lunch as well as Narcan, a medication used to treat an opioid overdose. After chatting with clients and volunteers, the national commander declared the work, “Phenomenal. I’m beyond words.”