Homelessness is a lasting battle

Jenna Staul

Safer Futures volunteer Bo Biltz spent last week’s holiday at the shelter serving Thanksgiving dinner to residents. Caitlin Prarat | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Anne Lofaro fights on the front lines of one of America’s most devastating battles after she punches into work each day.

Lofaro is the program manager of Miller Community House, Kent’s only homeless shelter that takes in men, women and children, specializing in the rising crisis of family homelessness.

She witnesses first-hand many of Portage County’s 200 to 500 homeless flock to the shelter’s doors.

“I think it’s huge,” Lofaro said. “We live in a rural community so it’s not in your face.”

Lofaro spends her days overseeing the operations of Miller House, which can serve up to 22 people, who typically stay one to two months. The shelter is always filled to capacity with new residents waiting to move in as others move out. She said her work keeps her on her feet, on the job and on-call to handle emergencies.

“You’re always struggling because you want to help the families you have,” Lofaro said, adding that she has to turn needy people and families away from the shelter every day. “But you know, there’s always others in need out there on the back burner.”

What sets a career in social work apart from other professions, Lofaro said, is the hope that someday the services will not be needed. But she said she doesn’t see a pink slip coming her way anytime soon — her job is in high demand.

“You always hope there’s not a need,” Lofaro said. “You never want to see them again — it’s a weird profession. You want them to leave and not come back.”

Bo Biltz, a counselor at Safer Futures, also takes in those who have no where else to go.

“It’s a job that I’m passionate about,” Biltz said. “But at the same time how can you love a job that brings victims to you.”

Safer Futures specializes in housing and counseling women and children who are victims of domestic violence. While men may be excluded from Safer Future residency, Biltz said reaching out to men is a crucial part of his job.

“Men who are abusing women depend on other men to stay silent,” Biltz said. “Being silent is providing him with permission to abuse.”

Biltz leads a group called “A Call to Men,” which aims to educate men about vicious cycles of domestic abuse that affect many of their female friends, sisters and daughters.

In his work at Safer Futures, which can house up to six families for an indefinite amount of time, he helps to provide victimized women and children with both an education to rebuild their lives and a roof over their heads while they do it.

“My happiness comes when I see a woman succeed,” Biltz said. “But it’s not going to happen 100 percent of the time, and that can be discouraging.”

Both Biltz and Lofaro witness families struggling with some of society’s deepest lows, but both boast a steadfast passion for their careers. Neither Biltz nor Lofaro chose social work as a career, but rather social work chose them.

“I never thought that I would do what I do,” said Lofaro. “I was an art history and communication major (at Kent State).”

Lofaro ventured down the very different path of social work after taking a part-time position at Miller House seven years ago. She has been there ever since.ÿ

Biltz came into his profession unexpectedly five years ago after struggling with cancer.

“I have a lot of college and no degree,” said Biltz , who served in the military for 10 years before taking a job at a post office. After being diagnosed with cancer, he was forced to retire.

“I found myself sitting at home with a lot of down time,” Biltz said. “Then I took a job at Safer Futures.”

The prospect of watching those struggling turn their lives around is what motivates Biltz and Lofaro to work each morning. The odds are against them — lack of employment and over-demand on government housing may keep the beds of Safer Futures and Miller House occupied. But Biltz and Lofaro plan to continue their work undaunted.

“Seeing people succeed is why I do this,” Lofaro said. “The positives of this job by far out-weigh the negative. This is a job where you can’t go and just watch the clock.”ÿ

Contact news correspondent Jenna Staul at [email protected].