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'We can't sing on email'

Ed Smith spoke about his life as a Seaway Hotel resident. (Photos by Ellen Altman)1 / 4
CHUM Executive Director Lee Stuart addresses the fall assembly. "I have to admit, I'm frightened by the rise of hunger in our community," she told the gathering. "We are a safety net, but we are sorely stretched." 2 / 4
Ed Pfeifer, a resident of the Esmond Building, told of the work done to save his home, the former Seaway Hotel.3 / 4
The Rev. Cathy Schuyler gave the closing prayer. 4 / 4

CHUM held its fall assembly on Tuesday at Asbury United Methodist Church.

About 150 people attended. Executive Director Lee Stuart updated this gathering of 150 delegates on the status of the Steve O'Neil Apartments and informed them of the statistics on the use of their programs. Volunteers were honored and a new church joined the the fold.

CHUM has a mission of providing basic necessities, such as food and shelter to help people stabilize their lives. It is made up of 40 faith-based congregations. Since the organization now includes faith groups other than Christian, it is simply referred to as CHUM, no longer Churches United in Ministries.

Tuesday's event included singing, prayer, visiting and food, things that Stuart says are important in maintaining human relationships.

"We can't sing on email," Stuart told the Budgeteer. "Participatory democracy means that you see people face-to-face and talk things out. Bringing people together is an important part of a relationship."

The Steve O'Neil Apartments will be ready for occupants on Dec. 15. This project will include 44 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless families with children and six units of emergency family shelter.

Stuart said that several meetings a year keep the congregations informed. "This arms the delegates so they can share the word with their congregations, Stuart said. "There was a lot of positive feedback, spirit and energy."

New congregation added

Hermantown's Trinity Episcopal Church was officially added as a member church at the meeting.

A battle to keep their homes

Ed Pfeifer and Ed Smith, residents of the Esmond Building, spoke about the success of keeping their home open. The Esmond Building is the new name of the former Seaway Hotel, which was slated to be condemned by the city in 2012, but was remodeled with grants and purchased by the Housing Redevelopment Authority.

"(They are) very grateful for HRA and Center City Housing, CHUM, the city and the whole team that saved the Seaway," Stuart said.

Honoring volunteers

Volunteers are working to make sure the residents of the Steve O'Neil Apartments will have beds and quilts. Jay Newcomb of the Duluth/Superior Friends and Mike Koppy of Duluth Woodworkers Guild were honored for constructing 40 double beds and 29 single beds. Jo Johnson was honored for her part in the "Ties That Bind," a quilt-making project. The quilts will serve as a housewarming gift to each family in the Steve O'Neil Apartments. Flo Bonkowski was honored for volunteering in the CHUM office for over 15 years.

Demand for food shelf up

"Although donations to the food shelf, food and money, are significantly higher than last year, we are also purchasing more food from the food bank to meet the increased demand. I have to admit, I'm frightened by the rise of hunger in our community," Stuart said at the meeting.

In 2012 CHUM served 6,600 households and in 2013 it served 6,980. As of October CHUM has served 5,526 households. That's an increase of 327 households (1,200 individuals) over the same time last year.

Providing shelter

In 2013, CHUM sheltered 1,055 guests, 141 of whom were children. In 2014, as of October, there were 810 guests, 78 of whom were children. "Our guests are disproportionately, 48 percent, people of color, reflecting the racial disparity in terms of assets, income, housing, health, employment, education and opportunity in our community," Stuart said.

Also, 55 percent of those using the shelter report having a disability. About one-third of those seeking shelter were homeless for the first time. "Something bad has happened to them, and with support we can help most of them leave shelter within 30 days," Stuart said.

About one-third have been homeless for more than a year, or four times in the last three years. "These are the long-term homeless and are among the hardest to house," Stuart said. One-third seeking shelter have been homeless previously but do not report chronic homelessness.

"We must do better," Stuart told the gathering.

Regarding the CHUM Drop-In Center, "There isn't another place like it in Duluth," Stuart said. "And you who make pancakes, bring dinners, who give socks and hand warmers and sandwiches — You help lighten the burdens of thousands."

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Fast Facts:

CHUM Foodshelf

2012: 6,600 households served

2013: 6,980

2014 (as of October): 5,526 households*

*That's an increase of 327 households (1,200 individuals) over the same time last year.

People in the shelter

2013: 1,055 people sheltered

2014: 810 people as of October

55 percent report some type of disability.

One-third report stay as first-time homeless.

One-third report being homeless more than once.

One-third report homelessness as a chronic issue.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at