Helping the homeless

Shelter manager Reshella Hawkins, left, of Emergency Shelter Services in Benton Harbor talks with Marshall Jones of Benton Harbor, who recently moved out of the shelter.

BENTON HARBOR — Life has been tough for Marshall Jones of Benton Harbor this past year. 

But with the help of Emergency Shelter Services, she said she’s now living in a house with her four children while working at the Whitcomb Senior Living Community in St. Joseph.

“Reshella never gave up on me,” Jones said of shelter manager Reshella Hawkins. “She always told me I need to get my head on right.”

The 2012 graduate of Dream Academy said that during the past year, she lived in the shelter twice, with the last time being from January to March.

Jones said she regularly returns to the shelter to talk with Hawkins and other staff.

“This is like my second home,” she said.

In addition, Jones said she is preparing to take classes at Lake Michigan College this fall, thanks to a college representative who spoke at the shelter while she was there. 

“I never thought I would go to college,” she said.

Hawkins said the representative was from the college’s TRIO Student Support Services program, which is just one of the many life skills classes that rotates being taught at the shelter for an hour almost every weekday morning.

She said the shelter has a capacity of housing 28 people. Currently, she said the shelter is housing 12 adults, with the rest being children.

When people think of ESS, they usually only think of the shelter. However, there are actually three branches of ESS. Including the shelter, under the ESS umbrella is 6 Degrees Resale Store in Benton Harbor and the Connection, which provides referrals for people who are threatened with homelessness.

Emily Vasington and Leah Peat, who both serve on the ESS board of directors, said the agency will celebrate 30 years of service later this year. They said ESS plans to launch a new website in the next few weeks as part of the agency’s rebranding and restructuring efforts. For example, they said the name of 6 Degrees Resale Store will change to ESS Resale.

Until the new website is up, people can find more information on the organization’s Facebook page – Emergency Shelter Services, Inc.

Transitions often mean changes. In March, three staff members, including the executive director, were let go.

“We want to stress – nobody did anything wrong,” she said. “We just felt like we didn’t have the right people in place at that time.”

While looking for a new executive director, she said board members have been more active in day-to-day operations of ESS.

The board has also hired a local consultant, Danielle Whah, to help in the restructuring, Vasington said.

“It’s really important to have people on the team who can inspire everyone to pull towards sustained goals,” Vasington said. “Our hearts are all in it. We’re doing it as effectively as possible with the resources that we have.”

She said they are finding ways to be innovative and creative so the agency can continue to grow.

Anyone interested in donating to ESS or in applying for the executive director position can email ESSboardofdirectors@gmail.com. Or, they can leave a message on the organization’s Facebook page. They said one of their current needs is a bus so they can take the women and children where they need to go.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege