New Directions for Living
Offering transitional housing
for the homeless in Lake County
by Laura M. Disbro
Have you ever asked yourself what it would be like to be homeless? How many of us live paycheck to paycheck? Could one medical disaster wipe out everything you have worked for?
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Betty Jurkowski, the Executive Director of New Directions for Living. New Directions is a program that offers a dual approach to helping homeless or near-homeless individuals and their families get a fresh start, while learning how to take responsibility for their own lives.
There is a perception that people are homeless because they want to be, but there can be many factors involved. Some people are homeless due to the loss of a job, nonpayment of rent or overwhelming medical expenses due to lack of insurance.
Some people have addiction issues with drugs and alcohol, while others may not have any education, have emotional issues, or are in an abusive relationship.
New Directions for Living is the only program that offers transitional housing for people that are living in the Lake County area. “We are not an emergency shelter,” explains Betty. “If you look at the one end of the spectrum, being homeless, and at the other end you have someone who can live independently, work and can handle all of their own daily needs.” Betty further explained, “we are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.”
Most individuals that have been homeless more than once need to step back, and really stop and think, ‘what am I doing wrong’ and find a driving force to change their lives for the better. This is where New Directions comes in. They offer a self-sufficiency program as well as affordable transitional housing for up to 24 months.
It all begins with an interview process. During this time, the client has to be ready to roll up their sleeves and to do the hard work it takes to lead a normal, productive life. There are rules that the client must adhere to. One of the main rules is staying clean and sober. Betty explained, “We won’t hold that against you, but if you do have a substance abuse problem, then you have to be enrolled into the appropriate program and attend regular meetings.”
Another requirement for this program is meeting with an assigned caseworker once a week. This is like a check and balance system. I had the pleasure of meeting two of the caseworkers during my visit. Loretta Tango-Schmidt and Faith Lewis, play an integral role in this program. “We meet with our clients on a weekly basis. We set up programs to fit the needs of the individual. Our clients have to attend various workshops and classes. For example, setting up a household budget, getting help to acquire a GED, goal planning, and perhaps most importantly, affordable housing,” explained Loretta and Faith.
The clients are held responsible for achieving the goals that they set, while caseworkers and a strong support staff help them overcome obstacles and perhaps teaching them the things that they need to do to go through everyday life. Betty further explains, “We all make poor judgments in life, especially when you are young, and you would not want someone to hold you hostage to every bad mistake that you have made in your life.” Betty explains, “We let them know exactly what the program expects from them, and they have to be motivated to work hard to make the changes that will help them and their families. That can mean changing some comfortable, but very negative behaviors that they have been living with.”
New Directions expects a great deal from their clients, but they also give a lot too. They provide the framework, the support staff, and help them connect with whatever resources they need to become a productive, self-sufficient person in society.
There are various transitional apartments in the Lake County area. Once the client is placed in the housing, they are responsible for a low monthly rent. They are provided with gently used furniture, provided through donations. Every client receives new bedding and towels. Betty said, “we are here to give a ‘hand up,’ not a handout.”
Statistics show that more than half of the homeless people are children. According to the Lake County Planning Commission, 51 percent of the homeless are children under the age of eight. National data indicate that children are the fastest growing homeless population. The study also indicates that 42 percent of the homeless are victims of domestic violence.
New Directions for Living is a non-profit organization. Their ability to provide these services is made possible through various programs, particularly from the Lake County United Way. Other Lake County businesses also hold annual fundraisers to further support the program.
On November 17, 2007, Tony Fini, owner of Francesco’s Salon and Spa held a fundraising event for New Directions. They held a silent auction as well as a Chinese auction. Wine tasting along with a pasta bar topped off the evening. Longo’s donated all the pasta as well as the chef. Wines 4 U provided the wines for the event. All the Cleveland sports teams donated baskets for the silent auction. All of the staff at the salon donated their services as well. Wendy Somerville won the Spa Package from Francesca’s Salon & Spa. “I am very excited about this,” said Wendy. “This is a beautiful facility for Lake County, and Tony and Domenica Fini, the owners, are very nice. Tonight, I was treated to a relaxing chair massage and I look forward to coming here again for the full treatment.”
I also talked to Chris Nemenz, President of the Board for New Directions of Living. “This is a wonderful program with very dedicated people, and I am proud to be a part of this. We really do make a difference in peoples lives.”
I felt very honored to attend this event. There are many volunteer opportunities for anyone who wants to reach out and help to change someone’s life. To learn more about New Directions for Living, contact Betty Jurkowski at (440) 357-6142. Reach out with your heart…you can help change someone’s life.
“Reprinted by permission of Heart of Lake County Magazine”