May 10, 2010 in City

Director discusses St. Vincent’s clearinghouse for social services

By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photo “They’re homeless fish,” Jeff Conroy, director of St Vincent de Paul North Idaho, said of the décor at the H.E.L.P. Center.
(Full-size photo)

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In July 2009, St. Vincent de Paul North Idaho opened a one-stop shop for social services needed by poor and homeless people. The H.E.L.P. Center – Helping Empower Local People – houses 21 agencies on a staggered schedule in the city of Coeur d’Alene’s old library building at 201 E. Harrison Ave. Since it opened, the number of people served monthly jumped from 534 to 1,281 in March, said Jeff Conroy, St. Vincent’s executive director. Conroy chatted with The Spokesman-Review about the center’s impact.

Q.Explain to me how it works. What happens when I walk in the door?

A.When someone comes in, they’re asked to sign in. Once they sign in, we ask them if they’re in the “system,” which is the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). It’s what the state uses to track services provided to those who are in deep poverty or homeless. Once they are in the system, they meet with a case manager. The case manager assesses what they need, and we get them to those agencies. The agencies that are here … what we do is ask them to commit some type of time. Everybody pays rent and it’s a sliding-scale rent, depending on how much time they’re here. Some people are here two to four hours a week; some are here 40 hours a week.

Q.What are the hours?

A.8-5, Monday through Friday. We’re contemplating a Saturday.

Q.How much do you pay the city in rent?

A.$1,500 per month.

Q.How many people have you served?

A.We’re passing the 11,000 mark, and that’s people that have come through the door. That could be duplicated.

Q.What does that tell you?

A.(Sighs.) Well, we can blame it on the economy, and the economy’s a good piece of it. Statistically, 66 percent of who we’re seeing can’t afford housing and don’t have a job. They are homeless. We’re seeing a lot more chronically homeless. We’re seeing a lot more families, almost a 600 percent increase.

Q.Beyond numbers, what impact have you seen it have on the community?

A.Well, it’s costing the nonprofits less money. It’s streamlining the paperwork that people need for Social Security Disability and Social Security insurance, and food stamp paperwork, to have someone sit and help them. So people are able to get their food stamps faster, their SSDI faster and their SSI faster because the paperwork’s being done correctly the first time.

Q.How many (agencies) do you have space for?

A.(Laughs.) I don’t know; we’re going to find out. We get creative. That’s what’s neat about the staggered schedule. Would we like to have more medical people here on Monday and Friday? Yeah. Dirne (Clinic) fills an awesome need Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I would like to have a medical person here after 3 o’clock because school gets out and (to) serve the children here Monday and Friday.

Q.Are there other services that you’d like to see here?

A.Yeah. I’d love to have Social Security here one or two days a week because … it’s so complicated. I would love to have a substance abuse agency come in and work with clients. Those are the two biggies.

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