Shelter’s S4 Program is Changing Lives

This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

What does S4 stand for? For Talbot Interfaith Shelter (TIS), it stands for Shelter, Stability, Support, and Success. Since moving into its permanent location in 2014, Easton’s Promise on Goldsborough Street in Easton has developed a unique comprehensive program to guide guests from homelessness to independence on the Mid Shore. In addition, today, through a partnership with the Housing Commission of Talbot County and private landlords, TIS is able to provide 10 off-site apartments as transitional housing for people who are ready to move toward independence.

Talbot Interfaith Shelter has been in its permanent location, Easton Promise at 107 Goldsborough Street in Easton, since November 30, 2014, after operating in the faith community for five years.

Jayme Dingler, Marketing and Development Director at TIS, comments, “We grew from a short-term program 11 years ago to S4, which offers a long-term comprehensive program creating self-sufficiency by giving people the tools to weather the storms in their lives.”

From 2009 to 2014, Talbot Interfaith Shelter was an emergency homeless shelter, rotating cots, blankets, supplies and support through Talbot’s faith congregations, including St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Christ Church Easton, Christ Church St. Michaels, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Easton, Third Haven Friends Meeting, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cordova, and the Temple B’nai Israel. Teams of volunteers from 19 faith communities came together to bring hot meals, drive shelter guests to showers at the YMCA, make bagged lunches and spend time with the shelter’s guests. Shelter guests had to leave each morning and return again in the evening to allow the churches and synagogue to conduct their normal schedules of day school and outreach meetings.

On November 30, 2014, TIS was able to move into its permanent home at Easton Promise. According to Jayme, the shelter opened trying to keep things as close as it could to what it did with the faith community to use its volunteers in the same way. After the first month, however, TIS staff realized that they needed to extend shelter hours to accommodate the schedules of the overwhelming number of families who had babies in the shelter. The number of families in need of shelter had grown exponentially. Today, TIS serves approximately 30 people at a time between Easton’s Promise and TIS transitional apartments. This number varies based on the sizes of the families TIS serves at any given time.

She explains, “There is a huge issue with families today – they are teetering on the edge financially. There are so many factors that make it difficult to live and work here. Public transportation is limited, and it is not affordable for people to live close to where they work in our towns, which are the most expensive places to live.”

She adds, “If people don’t have any extra money coming in and they have a crisis, they might be evicted for not paying their rent. Evictions on record can prohibit future housing options for people. We can’t grow fast enough for the needs of the homeless in Talbot County.”

Once guests are referred to TIS, they must have a background check. If they pass the background check, they are then invited for an in-person interview with TIS Director of Operations. If space is available, people are then interviewed. If it is a family, all members have to be present when interviewed.

Jayme states, “We are looking for whether a person is willing to make the commitment to the program. People are usually with us for two to four years.”

Once they are sheltered, guests work with TIS Director of Operations Fran Doran to create a plan designed to help them to regain financial stability. Fran connects guests with the necessary service providers and supervises them during this process, including finding employment and receiving educational programming. Guests who don’t have their high school diplomas must work on getting a GED. Other educational programming includes parenting classes through the Talbot County Department of Social Services, health classes through AmeriGroup, as well as classes in nutrition, cooking and even recovery. Persons in recovery need to be sober six months and must participate in the “Staying Quit” program. The “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World” program has been the most impactful program to help people see how to maintain their independence.

A growing number of families are facing homelessness on the Mid Shore. Talbot Interfaith Shelter offers a safe environment where guests are treated with dignity and respect until they can live independently.

Once guests reach a certain level of financial security, as well as emotional, mental, and physical stability, they are invited to move into transitional housing provided that there is an apartment available. Rent is subsidized, and guests continue to receive rigorous case management for one to two years as they incrementally take over their expenses until they are fully self-sufficient. Even after guests have “graduated” from the S4 program, Fran continues to follow up with them and offer guidance.

Jayme comments, “There are so many successes here every day.”

Dina Spry came to TIS in 2015 after sleeping in a car with her four-year-old daughter and six-month-old son. After reconciling with her husband while she was at Easton Promise, Dina, her husband, and her children moved into a transitional apartment where they continued to stabilize. Today, Dina is fulfilling her dream to become a nurse through Chesapeake College’s nursing program and the family recently moved into a four-bedroom house. She comments, “My husband and I have learned so much through these years of being with TIS and then just talks with Ms. Julie and Ms. Fran. Without everyone with TIS, I don’t know where my family and I would be.”

Jayme adds, “Our goal is that our guests never come back for services. We want them to have all of the tools and resources so that this doesn’t happen again. We’re not a band-aid, we are skin graft. We are helping end homelessness one person at a time – that’s worth the investment.”

Today, TIS has 450 volunteers and 20 faith partners, along with neighborhood and community organizations supporting its work. Volunteers provide supervision, cook meals, provide handyman skills, and fundraising experience. Since TIS receives very little funding from government agencies, the success of its program depends on the generosity of the community.

To donate or learn more, visit talbotinterfaithshelter.org or call 410-310-2316. Anyone interested in becoming a business partner, contact Marketing and Development Director Jayme Dingler at 443-786-4676 or tis.jayme@gmail.com. Follow Talbot Interfaith Shelter on Facebook to learn more about the organization’s “Wish List Wednesday,” which outlines current needs of the shelter.

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