Many residents of Rock County, Wis., did not think they had a homelessness problem as recently as a decade ago.
But Mercy Health System, which has three hospitals with about 184 total beds, knew better. Emergency room physicians reported an increasing number of patients who lacked addresses, and a study by the small cities of Janesville and Beloit found about 121 homeless people, the majority of them children.
The health system responded in August 1996 by opening the House of Mercy Homeless Center, which has provided more than 2,500 people with shelter, job skills, financial-planning workshops and more.
"It's not a free motel," explains Director Ron DelCiello. "The goal is to achieve stable housing and to achieve self-sufficiency."
Last year, fewer than 10% of House of Mercy residents required a second stay before getting back on their feet, and even fewer returned for a third visit. For these programs and results, Mercy Health System has earned the Spirit of Excellence community honorable mention.
The center runs on about $150,000 per year and is backed by 80 volunteers. "It's a real pride of the community ... that didn't think it had a problem," says Javon Bea, chief executive officer of Mercy Health System.