Chicago native LaQueena and her three daughters became homeless this summer, forced out of their St. Paul home when other family members moved, leaving LaQueena unable to pay rent.
LaQueena turned to People Serving People (which does not identify its guests by last name for privacy reasons). e homeless shelter provided LaQueena and her family with an apartment and meals, at the same time helping her find a job and her kids enroll in summer school.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been moving where I want to go,” LaQueena said in late August. “They push you to do what you’re supposed to do.”
For more than 30 years, People Serving People has been helping people like LaQueena and her family, providing them with meals, shelter, childcare, health care, employment services and more. e organization aims to help families overcome barriers to self-sufficiency through its programs, services and trauma-informed care.
“Our whole organization is shaped around treating our guests with a trauma perspective,” Daniel Gumnit, the organization’s CEO, said. “We’re all looking at the world through this trauma lens, and that’s a fundamental core to what People Serving People is all about.”
The organization does not limit how long guests can stay in its emergency-shelter units, though the average length of stay is 41 days, Gumnit said. e emergency units are always full, he said.
People who utilize the shelter have to be at least 18 years old and either pregnant or have kids. The vast majority of guests are survivors of sexual and domestic violence, Gumnit said, and many have mental-illness challenges related to that.
“It’s very different when you know that people have been sleeping in cars for weeks and are survivors of sexual abuse,” he said. “You think about their behavior in different ways.”
‘A national model’
The organization has been moving in the direction of homelessness prevention, Gumnit said, and central to that has been a focus on early childhood education, parental engagement and school-age programming.
“We really now are a national model for how you provide early childhood development programs to families that have experienced homelessness,” Gumnit said.
The shelter is licensed to hold up to 52 kids at a time in its four infant, toddler and preschool classrooms. Its teachers work with kids on their social and emotional skills from their first day in class, preschool coordinator Emma Juon said.
“As they gain confidence, we start to see them blossom and start to come out of their shells,” Juon said.
‘Here to be that support’
People Serving People also offers extensive services for adults, including employment support. Advocacy service coordinator Kasey Nimmerfroh said the employment-services department sees about 80 to 100 guests a month and helps them to overcome barriers — from a lack of transportation or child care to the need for school uniforms and a phone.
Nimmerfroh’s department has an open-door policy, allowing guests to stop in for immediate needs, like clothes for an interview.
“We’re not demanding anything,” Nimmerfroh said. “We’re just here to support, and I feel like that’s what really helps us build that rapport.”
LaQueena said she has seen that attitude among the shelter’s advocates. She said she would refer anyone in need to come to People Serving People, noting the positive direction the staff provided her and her family.
“It’s always something good that’s going on here,” she said. “They are eager to help you if you are helping yourself.”
People Serving People
614 3rd St. S.
Year Founded: 1982
By the numbers
99: Emergency shelter rooms in People Serving People’s 10-story building. It also has 10 two-bedroom supportive apartments.
41: Average length of stay in days for guests, according to CEO Daniel Gumnit
6: Average age of children at the shelter in 2015
3,092: Individuals in 1,121 families served in 2015
52: Capacity of People Serving People’s infant, toddler and preschool programs
What you can do:
Serve meals. People Serving People serves three meals a day to its guests, preparing more than 230,000 a year.
Volunteer as a mentor, tutor or childhood development program assistant. You can find a complete list of volunteer opportunities on People Serving People’s website.
Donate online through a planned gift or by dropping off items on People Serving People’s wish list.