From homelessness to coming home

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Recently, Homeless Connections, the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, and the Fox Valley Warming Shelter merged to become one organization called Pillars.

Contributor: Scott Peeples, Pillars Senior Director of Community Engagement

From the outside, three United Way Fox Cities partner agencies became one in a blink of an eye. In reality, it was a whirlwind of activity – going back to 2015 and peaking during the months of August and September 2018 – that culminated in the emergence of Pillars, a merger of the Fox Valley Warming Shelter, Homeless Connections and the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities.

The merger became official on October 1, 2018 with the unveiling of a new name, Pillars, a new brand and a new mission statement reflecting an agency commitment to lift clients out of homelessness and housing instability within a larger, more client-focused model.

Pillars headquarters is now located at 605 E. Hancock St., Appleton, the former Housing Partnership site. Pillars Adult Shelter, 1928 W. College Ave., Appleton, is the new name for the Warming Shelter and Homeless Connections is now Pillars Adult and Family Shelter, 400 N. Division St., Appleton. Pillars Resource Center is the name of the newest Pillars program located inside St. Mathew’s Lutheran Church, 129 S. Mason St., Appleton. Ascend is a Pillars apartment program for young adults located at 990 Appleton Blossom Dr., Neenah.

The new mission reflects the expanded, collaborative approach of the Pillars team. From homelessness to coming home, Pillars provides shelter, support and solutions to address the housing needs in our community. Each year, the new agency will provide 48,000 nights of shelter to adults and families experiencing homelessness and quality, affordable homes to 150 households.

One week after the merger, I visited several sites and witnessed our programs in action. At the Resource Center, I talked to a client who told me that having a place to go during the day was enabling him to stay away from negative influences. At Pillars Adult and Family Shelter, I bumped into another client who excitedly revealed he was celebrating three months of sobriety. His journey started at the Adult Shelter. Then I ended my day at the Pillars Adult Shelter. Clients lined up as the volunteers from McClone put the finishing touch on dinner they’d prepared for 56 people at the shelter that evening. A client read an invocation before everyone joined in the meal. “If you find yourself weary, find yourself broken down, brother you’re not alone. If you find yourself heartbroken, centered in a sacred place, sister, you are safe. We all swim in the same deep blue sea.”

The invocation, taken from lyrics of a song by the Dead Horses, speaks to our interconnectedness as humans. For the same reason, the new agency name was chosen because pillars rarely stand alone, are stronger together and support something larger than themselves. A pillar of the community is someone to admire, to look up to. Indeed, someone experiencing homelessness can also aspire to be a pillar, a confident, independent person admired by others.  

In four-plus years as director of the Warming Shelter, one of the more gratifying parts of my job has been seeing a person at his or her lowest point regain strength and a will to succeed. It always starts with the daily sustenance we provide to get them through a single day. Our program emboldens them to become a person they never imagined they could be.

With hope in our hearts, we all swim in the same deep blue sea. We can all be pillars in the Fox Cities.