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COVID-19 isolation shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Bloomington to open Monday



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Harris Services cleaning workers carry tubes through the front doors of a building March 24 at 300 W. Hillside Drive. The building will be used to provide a space where homeless people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are showing symptoms themselves can isolate themselves. Alex Deryn

A shelter for people experiencing homelessness who need to isolate themselves because of COVID-19 is scheduled to open on Monday at 300 W. Hillside Drive. People can use the shelter for isolation if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus or are showing symptoms themselves.

Four Monroe County organizations, Shalom Community Center, Wheeler Mission, New Hope Family Shelter and Middle Way House, are working together to create this shelter. Community Kitchen will help provide free meals. 

Forrest Gilmore, executive director of Shalom Community Center, said the center already partners with Community Kitchen to provide meals for people in need, and this project is going beyond the resources they already provide.

“We have to do whatever we can to stop the spread of this virus,” Gilmore said.

He said the temporary shelter is being supported by a grant from United Way of Monroe County's with their COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. It started with over $250,000 given by individual donors and partners in the community to go toward critical needs in the community caused by the virus, according to the website.

The building for the shelter is being rented month by month because it is unclear how long it will be needed. The shelter will be staffed, but not medically, and the staff members will be paid. 

In order to be admitted into this shelter, people need to receive a medical referral that tells them to isolate themselves, Gilmore said. The homeless shelters are working with IU Health Virtual Visits, which are free to everyone, and the Monroe County Health Department to provide people with these referrals. 

Childcare will not be available, but solutions to this will be based on individual family needs. This may include isolating the children if they are also at risk, Gilmore said. 

Emily Pike, executive director of New Hope Family Shelter, said there was a need for a shelter like this over the weekend but it was not ready yet, so the organizations knew they needed to set up the shelter quickly.

“We think it’s really important because we understand how easily this virus spreads,” Pike said.

Pike said the building is roughly 150,000 square feet, and other tenants will continue to use parts of the building. The section of the building being used for the shelter will be able to have about 49 rooms, though the organizations are still waiting on that number to be approved by the fire department. 

Almost a dozen other spaces were considered for the shelter, Pike said, but the area was selected because the landlord of the building was willing to work with the organizations, the space met their needs and it is in close proximity to Community Kitchen.

Pike said the purpose of the shelter is to help everyone follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention to limit the spread of the virus throughout the community.

“I hope we never have to use it, but the numbers are suggesting that we probably will,” Pike said.

Community members have been helping the shelter prepare by dropping off donations at the shelters, she said. The most needed supplies are over the counter medications such as Tylenol, Advil and cough medicine. The center also need thermometers, TVs and DVD players.

“The community support has been overwhelming,” Pike said.

Debra Morrow, the executive director at Middle Way House, said most shelters have too much community space, which creates a lot of interaction and would allow the virus to easily spread, which is why an isolation shelter is necessary in a situation like this.

“All of us are forming together saying our community needs something like this,” Morrow said. 

If people are contagious with coronavirus they can become a risk to everyone else if they are staying on the street, Morrow said. They need a safe place to go and recover.

“We are really happy to be supporting it,” Morrow said.

If people want to be hired as a staff member at the shelter, they can apply at the Shalom Community Center page on Indeed.com, Gilmore said. For donations of money, Gilmore said people should donate to the COVID-19 Emergency Relief fund, and physical items should be taken to either the Shalom Community Center or New Hope shelter.

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