Women's shelter offers a STEP in the right direction

Helpline volunteers Lore Fauver, left, and Alissa Becerril, center, read through the STEP volunteer manual with Housing Coordinator Kelsey Beckmeyer.

Helpline volunteers Lore Fauver, left, and Alissa Becerril, center, read through the STEP volunteer manual with Housing Coordinator Kelsey Beckmeyer. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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For women who are faced with homelessness and the dangers of living on the streets, there is a safe place to turn.

Helpline’s temporary shelter for homeless women, the STEP shelter, provides that safe place — temporary housing so the women can begin to put their lives back together.

STEP stands for “Step to Emerging Possibilities.” The security provided by the shelter is a gateway to a new life, new self esteem and new potential. The focus is on the positive, the present and future — not the past.

The shelter, founded in 2009, is successful because of the generous help of volunteers.

Kelsey Beckmeyer, Helpline housing coordinator, said the need for volunteers is continual. So is the need for temporary housing for the homeless.

According to Beckmeyer, there is no single cause of homelessness.

“A woman can become homeless for any and all reasons,” she said. “Maybe she’s working two jobs and lost one. Then lost the other and couldn’t pay the rent. Or maybe moving to a new community and they don’t have the resources. Many of these women have never been homeless in their lives. They may be in their 50s, 60s, 70s.”

Homelessness is stigmatized and there’s no fit-all solution for everyone.

“There is not a face to homelessness,” Beckmeyer said. Anyone can go through difficult circumstances and end up in a dire situation.

“The economy is still a huge challenge. People getting a social security check are struggling,” she said.

Similar to the reasons women end up at the shelter, the length of their stays depend on the individual’s situation and circumstances.

“It’s an emergency shelter. They can stay for about 90 days. They get vouchers for two weeks,” she said. Women can stay a couple of nights or a couple of weeks, depending on their situation.

If they are involved in domestic abuse they usually end up at the YWCA. When that location is at capacity, the women can come to the STEP shelter, which can house up to 18 people, Beckmeyer said. “The last couple of months it has been about 10 or 11,” she said.

Beckmeyer holds training sessions periodically to recruit volunteers. It’s good to have more volunteers than are needed so they can keep a rotating schedule to avoid burnout, she said.

One of the volunteers’ main responsibilities is to be at the shelter during the weekend. “Have someone who is not staying there keep it open,” she said. The time commitment doesn’t have to be huge. A few hours each week will help.

Volunteers often bring in activities they enjoy to help get acquainted with the women. “The main thing is they get to know the women. Activities have included yoga, henna, spa parties and movie events. Share a piece of what you enjoy,” she said.

The next training session will be July 9-10, 5:30-6:30 p.m. For more information call Beckmeyer at 509-529-3377.

Karlene Ponti is the featured reporter for the Weekly. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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