Indiana Daily Student

Homeless and rehousing centers in Bloomington concerned with rising COVID-19 numbers

<p>The sign of the Wheeler Mission Center for men is pictured at 215 S Westplex Ave in Bloomington. The Wheeler Mission provides housing to men experiencing homelessness. </p>

The sign of the Wheeler Mission Center for men is pictured at 215 S Westplex Ave in Bloomington. The Wheeler Mission provides housing to men experiencing homelessness.

Local nonprofits dedicated to aiding the unhoused community and those in extreme poverty hope to share their resources and willingness to serve the community despite the increase in COVID-19 cases in Bloomington. 

Beacon Inc. is one such nonprofit able to provide housing and other essential services such as meal and laundry service and access to caseworkers.  

Since the pandemic started, Beacon Inc. Executive Director Rev. Forrest Gilmore said his staff has been adapting protocols and encouraging clients at the Shalom Center and Friend’s Place to get vaccinated and get the booster shot. 

With less funding related to COVID-19 than last year, Gilmore said personnel cutbacks created other problems in enforcing safety measures such as temperature checks at the door. 

“We saw a really large outbreak a year ago,” Gilmore said. “We had an alternative shelter for people to isolate in and/or quarantine in, but we don’t have that this year.”

Related: [Omicron surge pushes Monroe County into the county advisory red zone]

He said the shelter is fortunate to report it hasn’t lost a single person experiencing homelessness to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Gilmore said the winter also poses greater challenges and threats to those sleeping outside, especially in colder and wetter conditions.

“Our programming doesn’t necessarily change with the weather,” Gilmore said. “We always want people to be in homes and recognize there’s a greater urgency and try and get people the things that they need to be safe.”

Wheeler Mission is another social services organization providing low-barrier sheltering and other essential goods and services to the unhoused, poor and at-risk members of the community, Director of Wheeler Mission Dana Jones said. 

“As the CDC has alluded to, this is something we’re going to have to learn to live with in the future,” Jones said. 

Jones said before the pandemic, the men’s facility was almost at full capacity regularly. Wheeler Mission could host a total of 130 men, but since the pandemic, Wheeler Mission is only able to host 117. He said the staff follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols and reduced maximum capacity. In the women’s shelter, Wheeler Mission used to be able to provide for 40 beds, but now only allow up to 35 women.

“We’ve done a lot to try and provide for and comfort during the pandemic for the population we serve,” Jones said.

Related: [New Hope for Families looks to provide homeless families with donations during holidays]

Jones said his staff is monitoring people as best as they can and isolating in-shelter when needed. 

New Hope for Families is an agency that supports and empowers families impacted by homelessness.

“Homelessness looks different for different families,” Executive Director of New Hope for Families Emily Pike said. “Families oftentimes are afraid to seek out 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 work their hardest to prevent families from sleeping outside. New Hope has two buildings: one with four bedrooms and the other with three bedrooms. She said for families with critical needs, the staff finds motels and provides services to them for the night. 

Pike said since the pandemic, New Hope made sure families could isolate in the shelter houses. New Hope also strongly encourages clients to get vaccinated and boosted. She said IU Health will conduct a booster clinic for those who want it next week. 

Pike said she appreciates the Monroe County Health Department and local clinics’ help in ensuring resources are available to the whole community rather than only those with financial stability.

“An agency like New Hope couldn’t exist just anywhere; there’s a reason that so many family shelters have a work requirement and a marriage requirement and a faith requirement,” Pike said. “It’s because that reflects the values of those communities, and I’m really proud that the values of our community say everyone deserves a safe place to sleep.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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