Homeless and jobless, a local mother of two found a safety net in Gateway180. Three years after making the decision to receive assistance at the homeless shelter, she has maintained gainful employment and has since moved her two sons into stable housing.
Gateway180 helps turn around the lives of almost 1,200 each year by providing a nurturing emergency shelter and supportive housing services to women, kids and families facing homelessness. Since it began almost 40 years ago, the organization has expanded its services with the goal of reversing homelessness through strengthening family units. “We have evolved to focus on the whole family—and the key driver is the kids,” notes executive director Kathleen Beach. “There are more than 100 kids—mostly under the age of 9—in our emergency shelter every day. To see them get help is the best feeling in the world.”
Gateway180 is the largest 24-hour emergency shelter in the state—but it’s not stopping there. It recently expanded even further—from serving 110 to 161 a day. “The demand is so large that we could have 500 beds, and we still would be full every day. There is a three- to four-month waitlist,” Beach says. However, the average client stay has decreased to about a month, allowing the shelter to assist more families, she adds.
To help families on the path to independence, Gateway180 not only offers food, shelter and clothing, but also provides parents with a range of life-skills programs to guide them in overcoming some of their biggest obstacles: poor household management, inconsistent employment, problematic financial planning, unhealthy lifestyles and difficulty addressing the needs of their kids. These programs, called Skills 4 Success, focus on housekeeping, landlord tenant rights, parenting, nutrition, financial literacy and job-readiness training. “Generally, our clients are employed, but at minimum-wage jobs. We help them with resumes and skills to get them more sustainable employment,” Beach explains. And for kids, the organization provides socioemotional classes, counseling sessions and educational assistance. “The education piece is huge,” Beach notes. “It includes our Adventure Club Summer Camp, where the focus is on building skills and talking through emotions.”
The shelter also offers special assistance to pregnant mothers. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be pregnant and not have somewhere to go,” Beach says. “Many of them have no family here...and you don’t realize how important family is until you are down on your luck.” Through the organization’s respite care program, staffers care for the babies, giving their mothers time to focus on their own needs.
In 2011, the organization opened transitional housing for clients who are ready to move on from the emergency shelter. The program provides families with rent and utility support, as well as case management, for the next step in their lives. In partnership with the nonprofit, Youth Education and Health in Soulard, Gateway180 is taking families a step further, helping to place them in permanent housing in the Soulard neighborhood.
In recent years, Gateway180 has assisted more than 1,000 families into stable housing. And Beach notes that is the ultimate goal: to break the cycle of multigenerational homelessness and turn people into homeowners. “We want to empower them. Having a home is something I hope for with all of our clients.”
Volunteer Spotlight: Nick Clifford
Each Sunday morning, Nick Clifford serves breakfast to the families staying at Gateway180’s homeless shelter. It’s a volunteer role he’s been happily performing for 30 years. “There are plenty of times when someone comes up to thank you, and say they haven’t had a breakfast that good in a long time. It’s very gratifying.”
Through the years, Clifford has been on the organization’s board, and even served as volunteer executive director, in addition to leading the Sunday breakfast service. Witnessing Gateway180’s positive impact on families has kept him coming back year after year. “It demonstrates to people who are down on their luck that someone really does care,” he says. “It’s not all paid staff, but also a lot of volunteers, that are there to do what they can to care for the families.”
The kids at the shelter really tug at Clifford’s heart. “Sixty percent of the homeless population is children,” he notes, adding that it takes a toll on their health and education. “Anything that a volunteer can do to help out the kids is an enormously beneficial thing.”
Clifford says it’s been remarkable to see the organization’s progression through the years. “When I first got started there, it was strictly an emergency shelter that made some efforts to find housing for people. We have gone from finding programs for people after the shelter to providing those opportunities,” he notes. “And we are now able to place a lot more families into housing, and then follow up with case management to keep them on the track to independence.”
Although Clifford enjoys seeing the families at breakfast each week, he is even happier to see them take the next step in their lives. “We hopefully will see them only for a short period of time before they move into other programs that will stabilize them and provide a base for them to grow.”