Beacon, a homeless and housing organization, opened a new homeless shelter near Switchyard Park Jan. 19. The shelter was created to meet the needs of Bloomington’s unhoused population, many of which had been staying at Seminary Park.
Beacon runs the Shalom Community Center, Friend’s Place, Crawford Homes, Phil’s Kitchen, Rapid Re-Housing and Street Outreach Programs to provide shelter, housing, food and other services to those experiencing poverty and homelessness.
Forrest Gilmore, the executive director of Beacon, said the City of Bloomington’s eviction of people experiencing homelessness in Seminary Park in December, 2020, deeply disturbed the organization. He said Beacon began to survey the people in Seminary Park in early January to determine how many people were sleeping outside and why they were there instead of at a shelter.
“It just revealed to us that the major crisis that we're dealing with,” Gilmore said. “That there simply weren't enough beds for all the people that were sleeping outside.”
According to a statement released by the Office of the Mayor, there are more than 60 beds in nearby shelters for people experiencing homelessness, but Gilmore said Beacon found large numbers of people sleeping outside.
Beside the lack of available beds, Gilmore said the survey identified a number of issues members the unhoused community faced when trying to access shelter. Pet ownership, separation of couples, religion, distance, shelter rules and storage were some of the issues Beacon resolved, according to Gilmore.
There are over 10 homeless shelters in the Bloomington area
The new winter shelter, located at 310 W. Hillside Drive, allows patrons to bring their pets inside, and couples are permitted to stay together.
On the shelter's first night of operation, Gilmore said the shelter served 26 people. The number grew to 47 people on Saturday, he said.
“To suddenly provide that many shelter beds for people in such a short period of time indicates that we hit on a very serious and major need,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said the most important way people can help right now is by volunteering at the shelter. He said volunteers are needed at the shelters, including Shalom Community Center and Friends Place, and at daytime programs that include hospitality and kitchen volunteers and job search coaches.
“Students have always played a huge role in doing that and supporting our work through volunteerism,” Gilmore said.
Bloomington Homeless Coalition volunteer Heather Lake volunteered at the new shelter during the first two days it was open and said she was pleased with the staff and volunteers.
“The new shelter is really, really good,” Lake said. “It's run by really good, trained staff and volunteers and everybody's really involved.”
Lake said she volunteered the first two days the shelter was open to help clean and set up the space for patrons. She said she was worried about friends who had been evicted from their tents and that people have worked hard to make the shelter a place where everyone feels comfortable enough to stay.
“It just feels better to have them know that they can come inside at night,” Lake said.