Shelter pays it forward

By SUSAN LYNN
Register Editor

Register/Susan Lynn
Linda Stange is executive director of Faith House, a shelter in Chanute that houses the homeless for up to 45 days.

CHANUTE — Linda Stange of Faith House homeless shelter puts a familiar face on the homeless.
“It’s not the drunk under the bridge,” she said of the typical stereotype. Rather, it’s a wide swath of the U.S. population whose livelihood is put at risk if so much as one paycheck is missed through some sort of emergency.
The shelter is a two-story house on a shaded street in Chanute’s southern section. Families with young children get preference over individuals. Since opening in 2007, Faith House has helped close to 1,000 people. Of those, 300 families — including 45 from Iola — have stayed at the shelter.
Another 600 have received help in the form of food, emergency lodging at hotels, being connected with Social and Rehabilitation Services or mental health professionals — services that help people “get their lives in order,” Stange said.
The people who show up at her door are simply “deflated,” Stange said. “Homelessness is the bottom of the bottoms.”
From its first day, the shelter has had a waiting list of a dozen or more people.
As executive director, Stange works closely with the Chanute Housing Authority and the Chanute SRS office to find suitable housing and services for her “guests.” With a background in property management, Stange has a good relationship with local proprietors when it comes to matching possible tenants to homes.
“We don’t deal with slumlords,” she said, to protect people from being thrust into unsavory conditions.
Conversely, Stange has to convince landlords that homeless people are not vagrants.
“We’re about hope. About love. There’s very few of us who have not needed a helping hand in our lives. We’re about giving second chances.”

STANGE’S PAST has a role in her work today.
She became pregnant at 16 and dropped out of Iola High School. She married at 17, and by 22 had three sons.
“I had this pie in the sky dream that all I needed was a little house with a white picket fence and everything would be perfect.
“But when I look back I see this uneducated, pregnant teen standing on a street corner, smoking.”
It’s an ugly, but instructive, picture for Stange to recall.
Her salvation were parents who “picked me up, dusted me off, and helped me get on a better path.”
That journey included earning a General Education Development diploma and eventually attending Allen County Community College.
“I learned that even with a minimal education, it made a huge difference to my life,” she said.
Teaching guests at Faith House that education is key to escaping poverty is a constant lesson.
“And with jobs so tight, it’s the perfect time to be in school,” she said. “There are so many federal and state programs that will pay for an education. We can help people access those monies.”
The poor typically don’t consider education valuable.
“I grew up in a house where college was never discussed,” Stange said. “It’s difficult to raise kids to aspire to a better life if they don’t have the tools to get there.”
A common misconception of the poor is that they are lazy, Stange said. “Not so. They just need teaching.”
Stange cited an example of poor reasoning.
“A man came in over his head in debt,” she said. “He was paying for a storage unit to keep furniture he was renting.”
Those on a limited budget need to set smart priorities, Stange said. Services like satellite, digital or cable TV, cell phones and Internet hookups have to be seen as luxuries that come after paying off debts.

FAITH HOUSE is big on instruction and rules.
“We have zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol. This is not a halfway house. You’re up by 7 a.m. Lights out by 10 p.m., earlier if children are included. Guests are to be home by 8 p.m., unless working.”
Guests are screened, ensuring no sex offenders or those who have committed violent crimes are admitted. No transients are taken in. Residents must be from the area, including Iola, Fort Scott, Independence, Pittsburg and towns in between.
The atmosphere at the house is friendly, but structured. At night, residents share a communal meal. They take turns cooking.
During the day, adults are expected to have five job interviews a day. Stange’s connections with local employers helps grease the wheels for the applicants.
The program has an unbelievable success rate at securing jobs for its guests, she said. Fewer than 6 percent return to the shelter, compared to a national average of 50 percent for similar services.
Part of the reason for that success is the follow-up Stange and her staff do with guests who have moved on. Weekly, then monthly, visits include financial counseling, stocking up on food and touching base that important things like doctors’ appointments are kept and medications are current.
Many of those who have successfully transitioned out of Faith House now serve as counselors to current guests.
“It’s a ‘pay it forward’ concept,” Stange said. “If we all did this more, we wouldn’t have some of the problems we have today.”
Stange’s passion is infectious, judging by donations to the shelter.
Free haircuts, food drives for the shelter’s three meals a day, cleaning buckets, free medical services, food, furniture, appliances and dishes are all contributed. Mechanics’ services and free shopping at local consignment stores are also offered to Faith House guests.
High-priority needs of the shelter are beds, especially for youths and children, and — hold your breath — automobiles.
Stange cited a recent donation of a 1986 minivan that “was worth a million dollars to a family. It made the difference between having a job and not.”
Because the shelter is a non-profit organization, all donations are tax-deductible.

FAITH HOUSE is the result of local ministers and staff at Chanute’s Housing Authority working to fill an obvious need, Stange said. The shelter is overseen by a 10-member board of directors. Board members come from other safety-net services including Tri-Valley Development Services, Social and Rehabilitation Services, Southeast Kansas Mental Health Services, Southeast Kansas Area Agency on Aging, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church, Neosho County Sheriff’s Department, Neosho County Community College, Neosho Regional Medical Center, City of Chanute and Iola’s Hope Unlimited.
A wider representation on the board is needed, Stange said, considering the shelter serves a four-county area.
Despite its name, the shelter is not faith-based. But, Stange said, the work at the shelter is “faith-inspired.”
Most Sundays Stange has an average of eight residents accompany her and her family to their church, United Brethren of Christ.
Funding for Faith House is bare bones. A $10,000 Emergency Shelter Grant is its only guaranteed income for the rest of the year. Housing vouchers through the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program “were used up long ago.”
When it comes to securing funds, “I’m worse than any beggar,” Stange said of her numerous appeals.
The shelter is staffed 24 hours a day by three full-time and two part-time employees.
Though the position as executive director meant a significant cut in pay from Stange’s former life in real estate and restaurant management, “I’m far richer now,” she said.
“At the end of each day, I have something to hang onto.”
To contact Faith House, call 620-431-6919 or visit its Web site, www.faithousechanute.com

A bake sale and collection jar to raise funds for Faith House will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in front of Iola’s Wal-Mart.