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Clara's House Shelter Operator Clara Kirk Honored by State

By Wendell Hutson | November 4, 2013 1:16pm
 Clara Kirk was honored Monday for her nearly three decades of work helping homeless women and children in the West Englewood neighborhood.
Clara Kirk Honored
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WEST ENGLEWOOD — Clara Kirk was honored Monday by the Illinois African American Families Commission for her nearly three decades of work as a shelter operator for homeless women and children.

The commission presented Kirk, 72, with a certificate of appreciation for "never giving up even when things looked bleak," said Michael Homes, executive director of the commission.

And things looked bleak just this fall, when the heat was cut off at Clara's Place shelter until an anonymous donor paid off a $21,000 gas bill.

"This is a very special occasion because today we are here to honor someone who has been a jewel to the Englewood community for more than 26 years," Holmes said during a ceremony at the West Englewood United Organization, a nonprofit Kirk founded that runs Clara's Place and Clara's House.

"Clara is doing a marvelous job helping people, and we want to make sure she is able to continue doing this type of work for people who need it."

While Kirk said she appreciates the recognition, she said she'd rather receive donations from the public.

"These women need bed sheets, blankets, towels, cleaning supplies, and most importantly, we need meats," Kirk said. "We will accept canned goods, dry goods and any other food donation but what we are in immediate need of is meats. Please help me help these women and children because right now I am all they have."

Christmas toys are also welcomed, but Kirk said, "My babies can't eat toys," referring to children at the shelter as young as 4 months old.

Regardless of a lack of funding over the last few years, Kirk insisted the shelters are not closing.

"One way or another, God will make a way for us. He has kept us open and safe all this time, and I know he will continue to provide for us," added Kirk.

Last month, Peoples Gas disconnected service at Clara's Place, 1650 W. 63rd St., for a past-due bill of $21,026.74. One day after DNAinfo Chicago published a story about the gas service being cut off, an anonymous donor paid the bill, and service was restored.

Kirk said she called the donor, a married couple, and thanked them.

"They did not want to meet me because they want to remain anonymous, but told me they were glad that I called them," Kirk said.

Rosilind Sculfield, a board member of the organization, is the organization's new executive director. One of her first goals is to secure grant funding for the organization.

"I plan on taking a grant-writing course so I can apply for grants," she said.

Kirk said it takes about $275,000 a year to run Clara’s House, which is fully occupied, and $375,000 for Clara’s Place, which has 37 occupants, even though it can accommodate 59 people. Kirk said she did not have enough money to feed 59 people, which is why Clara’s Place is not full.

Clara's House is a transitional shelter where women stay up to 120 days, and Clara’s Place is a 13-unit apartment building for long-term occupants. The shelters service nearly 300 women a year, Kirk added.

Another goal the commission said it plans to work on is identifying women at the shelters who may be eligible for public assistance.

"If we could get these women signed up for food stamps or some government assistance that would help," Holmes said. "

One shelter resident, Felicia Bates, said she didn't know where she would go with her two sons, ages 12 and 14, if the shelter closed.

“I am working on my GED at Kennedy-King College and want to get into public housing. I have been looking for a job, but no one seems to be hiring,” said Bates, 33, who has lived at the shelter since 2007.