Last April, The Kitchen, Inc. closed the door to the Missouri Hotel after 20 years of operation. In September, founder Sister Lorraine Biebel passed away and the organization decided to shut down its medical and dental clinic. But, contrary to public belief, the Springfield-based social service provider is expanding and breaking new ground.
“A lot of people thought when we closed the Missouri Hotel that The Kitchen closed, because they so closely associated the two. In reality, it was one of nine buildings,” said Rorie Orgeron, The Kitchen CEO. “We’re still here, still doing what we were doing before. In some instances it is a little bit smaller scale, in other instances it is on a larger scale, and that is the housing portion of it.”
Orgeron equates that public perception is why donations are down $200,000 from last year, despite its budget remaining the same.
The Kitchen has made some changes; reshaping some services after a recent Community Focus Report.
“One of the focus reports came out and showed that Springfield was lacking in permanent support of housing for low income individuals,” Orgeron said. “We were talking at the time about how we could turn the corner on what we were doing because there was a lot of duplication in what we were doing.”
Orgeron says that they began the transition to permanent housing a few years ago because other organizations and programs were fulfilling low-income individual’s need for food. The Kitchen changed its mission statement to mention “housing” and “stabilizing services.”
“Before (the transition) it was almost a warehouse situation. You have this big building with a lot of people in it and some people would be in there for a couple of years,” he said. “You may come in there with a very good attitude, it is the first time you’ve been homeless, you’ve been employed before and you think you’re not going to be there very long.”
He says that after a month or two, individual’s attitudes begin to change because they are influenced by other bad attitudes and the situation becomes hopeless.
“We are trying to get away from that model,” he said. “Now we are trying to keep people out of the shelter, get them moving through the shelter quickly, back out into the community where they can be successful and not have to deal with other issues that come along with a large congregate shelter.”
The Kitchen still offers 50 beds in its emergency shelter on Commercial Street. The goal, however, is to get direct homeless individuals or families to one of The Kitchen’s 22 case managers to develop a plan to move into permanent housing.
Currently, the organization has 150 affordable housing units, with permanent housing facilities at Beacon Village, Franciscan Villa and Spero Place. Additionally, it has a Home at Last program for homeless veterans, Rapid Re-Housing for families and Rare Breed for homeless teenagers.
Orgeron says it has also added four housing programs since changing to the new model, one of which is currently breaking ground in north Springfield.
“We’re still here, we still need the community support,” he said. “Our great need right now is cash donations.”
Orgeron said all the bills are still the same; the organization just looks a little different. In the future, he’d like to sell all its buildings and put all its efforts into constructing new permanent houses to provide a stable residence for homeless families and individuals.
To learn more about The Kitchen or make a donation, visit its website.