If you prefer the homeless to be out of sight and out of mind, don't go to Talbot House.
You will see cheerful residents cooking and doing laundry. You will see people enjoying the shade in the back yard. You will see recovering alcoholics primping for a job interview.
Founded in 1979 as a soup kitchen, Talbot House now comprises a number of services for the homeless. At Talbot House, many of Lakeland's nearly 2,500 homeless men and women take showers, pick up their mail, use the phone, get their hair cut, visit a doctor and eat dinner.
Twenty women and 32 men are in Talbot House's residential "Renewal" program, which helps participants from 18 to 70 years old deal with problems such as alcohol and drug addiction so they can become self-sufficient. Full-time counselors guide those in the program to search for the reasons they have become homeless and learn how to get back on their feet. Once they are working, they are asked to pay one-third of their pay or $35 a month, whichever is less, toward the cost of the program. But only 10 percent to 15 percent of the homeless join the Renewal program; the rest aren't ready to face their problems and therefore remain on the streets.
During the day, 50 to 100 homeless people sit in the yard behind Talbot House, drink water or lemonade from large coolers on the picnic tables there and use the restrooms inside. On bad weather days, they are brought into the dining room.
They come here because it's safe, says Anthony Fusaro, director of development. "Before we moved into this building, most of these people were just hanging out in Munn Park," Fusaro says. "Maintaining this back yard as a safe haven has made a huge difference in downtown."
Beginning about 3 p.m., the homeless line up for the evening meal. Talbot House prepares about 600 meals a day, including dinner for all area homeless, about 100 lunch bags for those who get day labor jobs and breakfast for overnight guests.
Afterward, 130 to 180 spend the night in the shelter's dorms. They are invited to take a shower and exchange their clothes for a clean set. Those clothes are then laundered and "recycled," given to someone else. Thousands of showers and loads of laundry every month lead to a massive water bill of about $18,000 a year.
Talbot House's ministry extends far beyond food and shelter. Staff and volunteer doctors, nurses and dentists at the Good Samaritan Free Clinic see about 400 patients a month. And thanks to the efforts of a newly hired grant writer, the clinic dispenses about $85,000 worth of drugs for indigent patients every month.
"They would have nowhere else to go except the emergency room," says Fusaro. "We save the community a lot of money by providing these services."
Here at Crestview Baptist Church, we are reaching out as well. We have a bus ministry that picks up anyone who desires to come to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. We have a Wednesday night meal at our church where we typically feed 40-60 of these residents each Wednesday.