No place to go
Frederick Place is a bright light during a dark time
By Eileen Persike
Note: This story is part of several on the issue of homelessness in the Northwoods.
There are no tent cities or people sleeping in cardboard boxes beneath a freeway overpass in the Northwoods. Rural homelessness is not as easily recognizable as it is in urban areas, but to be sure, there is a homeless population here. Only 10% of the homeless in the Northwoods fit the stereotype of sleeping in places not meant for human habitation. The other 90% are “couch surfers” who stay with friends and relatives. Sometimes, when they run out of couches, they turn to Frederick Place, an emergency shelter in Rhinelander.
“People don’t believe we have a homeless population because they don’t see them,” said Tammy Modic, executive director of Northwoods Alliance for Temporary Housing (NATH), which runs Frederick Place. “That’s still a message that we need to continue to get out there. We’re surprised that after nine years people still don’t even know we exist. And I think that’s because they don’t think we have a homeless population.”
NATH became a 501c (3) in 2009. One year later the organization purchased a larger older home at 204 W. Frederick Street. Frederick Place opened its doors to one resident on Jan. 31, 2011. It has never been empty, averaging 10-12 individuals at any given time. Currently, the shelter is full. The need, Modic said, is still there.
To date, 721 unduplicated men, women and families have called Frederick Place home. Residents can stay there for 90 days, but Modic said the average stay is 40 days; the average age of residents is 34. The rules at the shelter are strict and meant to be followed. Once residents leave, for example, they cannot return for 365 days.
“We truly feel we need to be part of the solution and not a part of the problem,” Modic said. “If we’re just revolving our door, we’re part of the problem.”
There is a zero tolerance policy for drugs, alcohol and violent crimes. That means passing a breathalyzer and being clean of all recreational drugs upon admittance and all random tests thereafter. In order for someone to make a change, Modic added, they should have already started that process. But more than alcohol and drugs, the staff at Frederick Place is seeing more “complicated individuals” these days. Undiagnosed mental health issues far surpass the other issues.
“If you see a drug or alcohol issue, it’s really a masking of a mental health problem,” Modic said. “The stigma is lifting somewhat, so people are more willing to admit to mental health issues – or else our staff has learned to figure out ways to discuss it.” And that’s been difficult, since the shelter is not a mental health facility and rural areas like Oneida County lack mental health services.
Frederick Place residents, for the most part, work to better themselves during their stay. It’s one of the rules. Residents are required to set self-sufficiency goals and earn their stay by documenting 10 things they do each week to meet those goals.
“The residents who come through here continue to break that stereotypical mold of ‘they’re just lazy,’ they’re just, whatever,” Modic said. “It isn’t 100%, but it’s not in the non-homeless world, either.”
Seventy-five to 80% of the residents find employment, Modic said, but the high cost of rent in the area can get in the way of their success outside the shelter. The lack of affordable housing means that simply finding work does not guarantee people will be able to afford life on their own. Funding that may be available to support low income earners funnels down through the federal government to the state government, then to the various community action networks and other agencies.
Keeping it going
Of Frederick Place’s nearly $300,000 operating budget, less than 10% comes from federal funding. The bulk is raised through fundraising, donations and an occasional grant.
“The communities have been amazingly supportive but it becomes more difficult each year to meet the annual operating budget,” Modic said. “The reason we have been so successful is because things are status quo in the sense that that’s what the community wanted us to do. They wanted us to be zero tolerance, they wanted us to ask people to leave, to be selective, to have the rules in place, have the structure. And that’s why we continue to get support. We’ve done what we said we are going to do. But each year becomes a bigger struggle.”
NATH is looking to introduce a new initiative in 2020, to encourage community members to volunteer their time – making meals, selling raffle tickets, attending events, cooking brats, getting the word out. Anyone wishing to learn more about NATH and Frederick Place is welcome to contact Modic at 715-369-9777, check out their Facebook page or website, sign up for the newsletter or schedule a tour.