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John Lewis spurs series of services


Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Albert Spicer, left, a staff member at the John Lewis Coffee Shop in Davenport, assists community workers Bob Hill, middle, and Rose Rogers, right, as they serve lunch to homeless men and women.

DAVENPORT -- About 4 in the afternoon, they come.

Some walk slowly, shuffling their feet and clutching duffel bags.

Some walk quickly, heads swiveling back and forth, surveying the streets, houses, cars.

No matter how they walk, their destination is the same -- the large home at 904 W. 6th St. in Davenport, better known as Miriam House.

Miriam House, a shelter and short-term housing program for single, homeless men, is part of a larger network of homeless and community advocacy centers operated by John Lewis Coffee Shop.

``John Lewis Coffee Shop began in 1989 and has broadened over the years into empowering rather than enabling,'' Sister Carol Karwoski, associate director of JLCS, said recently.

Though coffee is served in all the homes, the name John Lewis Coffee Shop is misleading, executive director Kate Ridge said. There is no shop, and staffers are dedicated to preventing as many John Lewises as possible.

The organization is named after ``quiet'' John Lewis, a homeless man who had taken shelter in an abandoned building on Davenport's West 3rd Street. In an effort to keep warm, he lit a fire which later killed him.

The John Lewis Coffee Shop was a response to John Lewis' death. The agency provides shelter and support to the homeless while also addressing the root causes of homelessness.

``I'm not big on just feeding people,'' Sister Carol said. ``We need to go beyond that if we're going to solve their problems.''

In addition to the temporary shelter, Miriam House offers a transitional-housing program for men who want more than just a spot on the floor. To secure a bed in the program, men must meet with a counselor to set goals for themselves, such as getting or holding a job, Sister Carol said.

Miriam House also is the JLCS meal site, cooking and serving lunch to the hungry. The neighborhood food pantry also is located at Miriam House. Eligible Davenport residents can get a box of food every 60 days, Sister Carol said.

Sojourner House offers women short-term transitional housing in a more home-like atmosphere. John Lewis House offers long-term transitional housing to eight men who have consistently met their goals. Peter Maurin House offers men a quality place to live while they continue to improve their economic situation.

The John Lewis Coffee Shop started as a way to provide a safe, warm place for homeless people to stay the night. However, it has evolved into a multiagency organization of social workers and business people.

``Our growth has been paralleled by addressing gaps in services,'' Ms. Ridge said.

When the staffers at the center recognized a need that was not being met, they created a program to address that need. One of those programs is Neighborhood Advocacy Movement, a community-based movement to revitalize central Davenport.

The Cottage Family Resource Center was developed to provide outreach services for people in need. Those facing a housing, employment or domestic crisis can come in to find out where to get the help they need.

JLCS Computer Services Project repairs donated computers and offers hands-on experience to those who otherwise would have no access to computers.

The AIDS Prevention Partnership provides street outreach to people at risk of HIV infection.

Cafe John Lewis, still under construction at 932 W. 6th St., will house a neighborhood center, community meal site and four one-bedroom apartments.

Homeless Quad-Citians may once have been an invisible population group to some, but no longer. A 1992 Bi-State Regional Commission demographic profile confirmed increasing poverty in the Quad-Cities. In 1980, 7.9 percent of Scott County residents lived in poverty, but in 1990, the figure had risen to 12.1 percent. In Rock Island County, 8.4 percent lived below the poverty line in 1980, but 13.2 percent did so by 1990.

Those numbers demonstrate a direct need for John Lewis Coffee Shop and all its services, but they can't tell the human story of what it means to be homeless, or how easily homelessness can suddenly affect one's life.

``Most of us are just a paycheck away from homelessness,'' Sister Carol said. ``We should all be involved in the solution so we can take people through the Quad-Cities and say, `Yeah, we have homelessness here, but we're working to prevent it.'|''

-- By Sarah Larson (February 9, 1998)

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