A Porchlight program offering more than just shelter is planning on opening a new location.
Porchlight Products provides both shelter and work for homeless people near the campus area. Porchlight officials said the program not only allows residents to cook, but also gives them a source of pride.
Porchlight Products started about a decade ago to provide care and supportive services to the homeless population of the Dane County area. It has since become the largest supplier of low-cost housing in Dane County, Porchlight executive director Steven Schooler said.
The new location will be opened in East Towne Mall once the organization reaches its $4 million goal, Schooler said.
In the Porchlight kitchen program, residents of the shelter are employed part time to make mainly preserved food using locally grown produce, which Porchlight then sells to local stores and restaurants.
But Jessica Pastelin, Porchlight’s development director, said their primary mission is to reduce homelessness, not to produce food. The Porchlight program actually loses an average of about $12,000 a year, Pastelin said.
“What we strive for is to reduce homelessness not just by providing some money, but actually providing a mechanism where they can actually change their lives,”Porchlight’s Executive Director Steven Schooler
Schooler said most of the people he’s worked with at Porchlight often have a history of mental illness and substance abuse, and have been continuously told they are menial labor and cannot do anything worthwhile.
But when they enter Porchlight’s kitchen program, they are able to make their own line of food products and see these products in popular Madison stores and restaurants, including Short Stack Eatery and Capitol Centre Market.
“This makes them extremely proud, which helps provide stability in terms of housing, mental health issues and reinforcement of recovery,” Schooler said.
Another part of Porchlight’s mission is to provide a sense of community that will empower its residents.
Doretha Gerret, a Porchlight resident, is one example of the success of the program.
Gerret had a long history of homelessness and addiction when she moved to Madison 10 years ago, and didn’t have any friends or family in the area. She now currently lives and works at Porchlight, where she prepares rooms for incoming residents. She said she loves her job.
“When I go to work, it’s like I’m going home,” Berret said.
Schooler said the preconceptions many people have regarding homelessness are incorrect. The common image people in Madison have of homelessness is of panhandlers on State Street, but that’s not homelessness, Schooler said. In fact, he said a very small percent of those who stay in the Porchlight shelter actually panhandle.
Schooler said his agency still has further work to be done. Some of Madison’s homeless population do not seek shelter for a variety of reasons, including the paranoia and distrust that often comes with mental illness, as well as substance abuse and overcrowding in shelters, Schooler said.
Schooler said housing agencies like Porchlight need to reach out to these people, gain their trust and get them into housing. The most important aspect in dealing with the homelessness problem, Schooler said, is “to treat these folks like decent human beings, which is what they are.”