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Editorial: Losing Christian Help setback for community

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Three years ago this month, four women gave up their homes for a week to focus public attention on the issue of homelessness.

The women lived out of a minivan for the week. They continued with their regular jobs, which meant they had to find places to shower and prepare for work. By the end of the week all four showed signs of fatigue from trying to get a good night’s sleep in the van’s seats.

The effort was organized by LaTheda Noonan of Christian Help, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting homelessness in the county. It was her hope that the publicity would help people see that being homeless doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping under a bridge or in a cardboard box in a park.

“We’ve always been aware that people don’t recognize the homeless problem here,” Noonan said recently. “Until people see the homeless and see the problem, it’s not going to exist to most people.”

For 11 years, Christian Help Inc. has been serving as a sanctuary for the homeless and those in danger of losing their homes. The group provided rent payments so families could keep their apartments, offered assistance paying utilities so they had heat and water and found hotels where people could stay temporarily.

But as donations dwindled almost to nothing, officials had to admit they had no more help to give.

The Christian Help board of directors announced this month that the organization was permanently closing its doors. It will not reorganize in the future.

Noonan said it no longer was able to pay its rent, let alone provide assistance to its clients.

“We were helpless here. We’re floundering,” she said. “With the decreased donations and the increased number of people needing help, we had to make the difficult decision to close our doors.”

Christian Help was founded in 2003 to help the homeless with temporary shelter, education and utility help. Though the agency provided monetary support on its own, it also helped direct the homeless to resources within the community, such as township trustees, Human Services and the Salvation Army.

But, as Noonan said, that bridge has now been severed.

“I believe you’re going to see more people losing their homes and more people getting evicted from their apartments. Often, we were the very last agency people would go to. They don’t have that anymore,” Noonan said.

“Without us, we’re going to see more people becoming homeless. The ones who need help, they have nowhere else to go.”

The closing of Christian Help is a loss for the community. While its efforts have gone largely unrecognized by the broader community, its positive impact was keenly felt by those the agency helped and appreciated by other assistance organizations.

The agency was driven by the strength and passion of Noonan. Her dedication is to be admired, and we thank her for her service.

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