The feeding programs and shelters are becoming a shrinking circle of protection despite best efforts by churches and ministries.
If you happen to be a homeless man on the South Side of Chicago, there are precious few places to go during the day to escape snow or rain or heat—the public library, the train station, and, until recently, Roseland Christian Ministries Center.
"For 20 years, we had a drop-in center," said Joe Huizenga, the ministry's director of development. "It was aimed at men in the Roseland community—homeless folks who have some sort of mental disability, maybe veterans who couldn't find services. Roseland had a high number of homeless and displaced men who had nowhere to go during the day."
Roseland Christian Ministries, which also runs an overnight shelter for about 80 women and children, worked with the Chicago Department of Human Services to staff the drop-in center. Doors were open from 9 A.M. to about 10 P.M. every day; about 80 to 100 men walked through them to find lunch, dinner, and a place to belong.
"It was just somewhere to go, something to do," Huizenga said. "It would give them a sense of community and belonging."
The benefit to the community was two-fold, he said. In addition to sheltering and feeding the men, the center worked for containment.
"The children and elderly folks who lived in the neighborhood didn't have 80 to 100 folks with drug addictions and mental illnesses on the street," he said.
The state paid Roseland $300,000 a year for staff and food supplies. Three years ago, the budget was slashed to $190,000. Huizenga cut the hours and number of meals. Doors were open just five days a week, from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. Only one meal was served.
A year later, the state completely eliminated Roseland from its budget. A church in the suburbs stepped forward to help, giving enough money to staff the program for a few months. The hours were even shorter, from 2 P.M. to 5 P.M. each weekday. But it was not enough, and in June, Roseland had to shut the doors to the men's daytime shelter.
It is a story that's playing out in hundreds of places across the country this year. Since 2008, the recession has shrunk state budgets. At least 31 states have projected shortages for fiscal year 2012, a sum of more than $86 billion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. To read more, click here.