In the news part 3

Harvest Show Interview

The need for a Youth shelter in Elkhart county

Editorial: John Shafer’s sheer persistence resulting in shelter for youth

John Shafer didn’t give up and now there will be a shelter for young people in our community.
Posted on Jan. 13, 2016 at 3:00 a.m. (original article)

It started with John Shafer repeatedly saying Elkhart County needed a shelter for homeless youth.

It took some time for people to listen, and meanwhile he kept saying it.

In November, Bashor Children’s Home agreed to operate such a shelter for the first time in 40 or so years if the funding could be found.

On Thursday, Shafer was at a press conference wearing a “dream big” T-shirt, and Bashor CEO Don Phillips said the shelter would open by April 1 since the $130,000 in funding had been raised.

Over the last three years, Shafer has collected items locally and taken them to Chicago and to give to those on the streets. In 2012, he started Chicago and Michiana Five for the Homeless Inc. to reach out.

In this community, he’s sought out the people that society sometimes at best ignores and at worst disdains. Then he’s gone to public forums and settings and called for a place, a physical space, that would provide shelter.

He called a public meeting in July and the room was filled with those interested and willing to talk about the issue. He admitted that he didn’t know the cost or all the details. He just knew there was a need, and the closest shelter was in South Bend at Youth Services Bureau.

In July, he said, “We’re the first to admit, we’re just advocating because there’s a need,” Shafer said. “We have to admit we have no expertise, we are not going to be the organization running it. We have to rely on agencies … who have worked with teens and juveniles and who have the expertise and staff and can employ the staff once the shelter is up and running.”

Bashor Children’s Home has expertise and resources. It has an excellent track record for its work with troubled young people.

The board approved the shelter for up to six teens to live in a vacant building on Bashor’s campus between Elkhart and Goshen. The money was raised. The shelter could open by April 1.

Estimates on the number of homeless teens vary from about 150 to 200. Shafer was the one who spoke out for them, who said the community wasn’t doing enough. Soon, there will be a shelter because of his doggedness, his willingness to speak out and advocate for a solution, even if he didn’t have all the pieces to put it together.

One man made a difference. One man wouldn’t let the issue go. It’s difficult to measure how big a difference one man can make, but what’s clear in this instance is how much Shafer’s efforts led to this shelter.

Now there will be one more resource in our community to help young people get support they need to potentially succeed.

Meeting planned to discuss creation of homeless youth shelter

Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2015 5:03 pm
By DENISE FEDOROW Correspondent


Anyone who’s ever talked to John Shafer of Nappanee knows that he’s passionate about helping the homeless. So passionate that he founded a non-profit organization Chicago & Michiana Five for the Homeless — the name comes from his thought that if everyone in Chicago would give $5 the homeless problem would be solved.

Now Shafer’s focus is on the homeless youth of Elkhart County and the need for a shelter and safe stations for them. To that end he’s been pulling all forces together to attend an informational meeting on July 15 at the Elkhart Salvation Army and has invited representatives from several municipal and charitable organizations, but he wants anyone with concern for homeless youth to attend.

His focus on a youth shelter came about because of the death of a homeless teen this past March.

“I became aware of a 16-year-old — Devin Borkowski — who was found dead in a vacant home in early March,” he said.

Borkowski was listed as a runaway and was missing 31 days. The results of an autopsy were undetermined as to cause of death, according to news reports.

Shafer met and spoke to Devin’s mom, Michelle Frost, who is devastated by the loss. Around the same time, he learned of five homeless youth runaways all staying in one room in a motel on Cassopolis Street. C&M Five for the Homeless paid for an additional eight-day stay, Shafer said, “hoping it would give them time to repair bridges and return home or to gain employment.”

Shafer said all but one found employment, but he’s since heard a couple have fallen back onto the streets.

Homeless youth are a different concern than homeless adults, according to Shafer.

“Because typically young people need guidance and structure and without it they eventually turn to stealing to get something to eat and get arrested,” he said.

Many of them also turn to drugs — using and selling — and turn to prostitution in order to survive and fill their needs. Some are forced into it by people they meet on the streets who offer them shelter.

“I don’t want any more 16-year-olds like Devin Borkowski wandering the streets,” he said.

Shafer said no matter the circumstances that led them to the streets — whether they ran away or were kicked out — they need a safe house and there currently is no such place in Elkhart County. Faith Mission is only for adults over 18 and Goshen Interfaith Hospitality Network is for mothers and children.

As far as how many homeless teens Elkhart County has, Shafer admits it’s hard to get an exact number.

“They fly under the radar, keep to themselves and hang together,” he said. “When you see a young person on the streets you can’t usually define them as homeless, but we feel that as many as 200 are at large throughout the year.”

Shafer said that number is based on the number of youth they’ve encountered and talked to, as well as the numbers St. Joseph County has taken in through safe houses and the number of young people reported by the Elkhart Salvation Army who show up for free breakfasts.

“We feel even one is too many to be out on the streets trying to survive with no assistance, no protection and no shelter,” Shafer said.

When asked if he thought the youth would utilize such a shelter if one was available. He said he believed they would, but whether they did or not, there are currently no options.

“We want to provide an option for those youth out on the streets that don’t want to or can’t return home. We need to open our doors for the homeless youth so they don’t get involved in areas that harm them,” he said.

Shafer said many cities around us have safe houses and safe stations, even if it’s a sign at a McDonalds or a fire department, where they know they can go for help and where they’ll find trained adults who will call a local shelter. The shelter would pick the youth up so they can be safe and be provided guidance

“When a troubled teen is looking for help and sees a symbol like that it’s a huge welcome mat and gives him options and a bed for the night,” Shafer said.

Shafer said he’s been told that Youth Services Bureau of Elkhart and Bashor Homes of Goshen each had safe houses but they were closed due to funding issues. He said there are different sets of legal issues when dealing with youth that some may shy away from but both these organizations have done it before. He feels that once such a shelter is open it would need financial support from the city to help fund it as well as from organizations and members of the community.

“That’s why we’re inviting everyone to come together and attend this meeting to discuss how do we do it and how do we maintain it,” he said. “The last thing we want is for it to open and close in a year.”

Shafer said he didn’t care where the shelter was located within Elkhart County but the city of Elkhart seems the most logical to start — although in talking to people at Bashor Homes he’s been told they may already have a facility that could be used. He thinks there could be a possibility of a grant through the Elkhart County Community Foundation and said he also needs someone on board who knows how to seek out grants. Close to 200 people have been invited to this meeting — mayors, representatives from all service organizations and youth pastors.

“We want to find a strong enough momentum to push this forward and have invited people from different backgrounds to pool their resources and give us direction,” he said. “It’s time for the city with a heart to have a heart for our homeless youth.”

For those who worry about the cost of sheltering homeless teens, Shafer contends it’s less than the alternative.

“It can cost cities as much as $25,000 to $35,000 to provide emergency services and court services. Many cities are creating a trend and using the initiative called “Housing First” because you can provide housing for as little as $15,000 to $20,000 per year,” he said. (

“We know this is a growing concern,” Shafer said. “It’s not going to go away and it’s going to take time, but we have to start now.”
If you want to go

Anyone who is interested is invited to attend this informational/brain storming meeting on July 15 at the Elkhart Salvation Army, 300 N. Main St. from 2 to 3:30 p.m. For more information, contact John Shafer and Chicago & Michiana Five for the Homeless at 574-383-8428.

Because of this young man’s tragic death we fought for the youth shelter which successfully opened April 4 2016

Meet Devin Borkowski


Elkharts new youth shelter