Local nonprofits dedicated to helping the homeless community and those in extreme poverty hope to share their resources and willingness to serve the community despite the rise in COVID-19 cases in Bloomington.
Beacon Inc. is one such non-profit organization capable of providing housing and other essential services such as meal and laundry service and access to social workers.
Since the start of the pandemic, Beacon Inc. executive director Reverend Forrest Gilmore said his staff had adapted protocols and encouraged customers at Shalom Center and Friend’s Place to get vaccinated and inoculated.
With less COVID-19-related funding than last year, Gilmore said staff cuts have created other issues in enforcing safety measures such as door temperature checks.
“We saw a very large outbreak a year ago,” Gilmore said. “We had an alternative shelter for people to self-isolate and/or quarantine, but we don’t have one this year.”
He said the shelter is fortunate to announce that it has not lost a single homeless person to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Gilmore said winter also poses greater challenges and threats for those who sleep outdoors, especially in colder and wetter conditions.
“Our lineup doesn’t necessarily change with the weather,” Gilmore said. “We still want people to be in homes and recognize that there is a greater emergency and try to provide people with the things they need to be safe.”
Wheeler Mission is another social service organization that provides low-barrier shelter and other essential goods and services to homeless, poor and at-risk members of the community, said Wheeler Mission director Dana Jones.
“As the CDC alluded to, this is something we’re going to have to learn to live with going forward,” Jones said.
Jones said that before the pandemic, the men’s facility was near capacity on a regular basis. Wheeler Mission could accommodate a total of 130 men, but since the pandemic Wheeler Mission can only accommodate 117. He said staff were following Center of Disease Control & Prevention protocols and reducing maximum capacity. At the women’s shelter, Wheeler Mission was once able to provide 40 beds, but now only allows 35 women.
“We’ve done a lot to try to provide and comfort during the pandemic the population we serve,” Jones said.
Jones said his staff are monitoring people as best they can and self-isolating if necessary.
New Hope for Families is an agency that supports and empowers families affected by homelessness.
“Homelessness is different for different families,” said New Hope for Families Executive Director Emily Pike. “Families are often afraid to ask for help because it is an act of abuse or an act of neglect to be homeless with your children.”
Pike said she and her staff are doing their best to keep families from sleeping outside. New Hope has two buildings: one with four bedrooms and the other with three bedrooms. She said that for families with critical needs, staff find motels and provide them with overnight services.
Pike said that since the pandemic, New Hope has made sure families can self-isolate in the shelters. New Hope also strongly encourages customers to get vaccinated and boosted. She said IU Health will hold a booster clinic for those who want it next week.
Pike said she appreciates the help of the Monroe County Health Department and local clinics to ensure resources are available for the entire community rather than just those with financial stability.
“An agency like New Hope cannot exist just anywhere; there is a reason so many family shelters have a work requirement and a marriage requirement and a faith requirement,” Pike said. “It’s because it reflects the values of those communities, and I’m really proud that our community values say everyone deserves a safe place to sleep.”