ARNOLD SERVICE EXTENSION CENTER FIGHTS HIGH POVERTY, UNEMPLOYMENT
As homelessness and poverty are giving The Salvation Army plenty of challenges for the Arnold Service Extension Center, efforts soldier on for providing food, rent and electric support, a safe from harm place for people escaping dangerous situations, and other services for people in search of work or are in emergency circumstances.
The Arnold Service Extension Center, formerly known as the Arnold Corps, is a small but mighty force of two people providing aid to Jefferson County, or an area of 664 square miles.
The weekly food pantry distribution has high quality food, sometimes serving more than 30 families per hour. Requests for emergency rent are common, often in living situations under duress from volatility of a relationship, large families with many children, and individuals in immediate need. A mobile food mart comes once a month, coming up at Oct. 7.
The Arnold location of The Salvation Army long held religious services in its chapel, with a high-quality sound system and beautifully decorated stage. With the location in transition, the focus of Arnold’s services has shifted to the necessities for helping people survive in a difficult economic situation.
“We do more than the services we’ve been doing, pantry and pay a bill,” Athena Drattlo, head of the Arnold center and a social services case manager, said. “Food pantry is very much alive, right now this location pays for rental assistance, with or without COVID, and electrical assistance, with COVID.”
The individuals applying for service in Jefferson County average 185% below poverty level, Drattlo said.
Complicating the situation is the fact that the county prohibits homeless shelters, pushing the population into untenable or barely tenable living situations. In Jefferson County’s 17 cities, including Arnold, Festus and Kimmswick, no homeless shelters exist.
The Arnold Service Extension Center, for example, does not comply with local regulations that an indoor sprinkler system is necessary for a church. Thus, despite the large venue with potentially open doors, the service is prohibited.
“What I hear a lot of is poverty being the major contributor,” Drattlo said. “I am so poor. All of July, people were getting $1,000, $2,000, $5,000 electric bills. They’re shutting it off. I was getting several calls. The eviction moratorium lapsed for a few days. People are desperate. They’re low income, not able to get good-paying jobs, or they’re relying on Social Security disability. I do get domestic violence and a large, large number of people who are just homeless. They’re living under the bridges around here or in the woods.”
For Drattlo, this has led to a potentially daunting challenge of finding new ways to offer services to the community without money. In Arnold, financial literacy classes are in the works, as is a closet of clothes for job interviews, group and individual counseling, and a path for homeless people to get back on their feet.
“This is the need. It’s a huge burden, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “I don’t care how I help people. I just want to help people. Until I find something better, I’m going to do what I can from here.”