As winter approaches and the pandemic continues to create challenges, the Community Partnership of the Ozarks has organized a three-part “Solutions for Shelter Summit” in recent days.
The Summit Series brought together service providers and community members to discuss solutions around these critical needs for crisis cold weather shelter sites for the homeless this winter, including the need for volunteers. , additional shelter space, donations and transportation. About sixty people attended the summit.
In recent years, two cold weather crisis shelters (one for men, one for women) would be housed in two churches and open nights when the National Weather Service predicted the temperature would drop to 32 degrees or below.
But last winter, the pandemic created a need to open several shelter sites to allow social distancing. It has also led many longtime volunteers who are older not to register because they are at high risk of COVID-19.
Plans are still underway on how cold shelters will be provided this winter and all ideas are welcome. If you missed the meetings but want to learn more about how to help, visit cpozarks.org/crisis-cold-weather-shelters and complete either the Volunteer Interest Form or the Partner Interest Form.
“These are seasonal overnight beds that host open sites within our community,” Amanda Stadler of Community Partnership of the Ozarks explained at Thursday’s summit meeting. “They are in addition to the approximately 400 emergency shelter beds available throughout the year in our community.
“What’s unique about them is that they’re low barrier; they’re easy for people to access,” she said. “You don’t need to have ID. You don’t need to be registered in advance.”
Need shelter space
Last year, the eight accommodation sites served an average of 80 people each night they were open. During that freezing cold snap in February, the number rose to 137 at its peak.
Stadler said the goal this year is to create a shelter system that can accommodate 150 people.
Last winter, several churches offered to be hospitality sites, as well as the Eden Village Community Center building and the Salvation Army Harbor House.
It is not yet clear which churches and organizations are planning to host a shelter, as those plans are still underway.
If a church or organization is interested in, but concerned about the operation and staffing of an overnight shelter, the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness has already created rules and protocol on how shelters operate and will train and / or provide volunteers.
The Alliance is exploring the possibility of extending the shelter to all nights this winter rather than just opening on nights when it will be very cold, Stadler said in an interview with the News-Leader.
“This is the goal and really what we have been trying to accomplish and that we have been working on all year,” she said. “It’s a capacity issue.… It’s having enough people, having enough space. It’s really a huge demand, so we’re trying to figure out who else can we bring in. , who else can come by our side and work with us on this to make it happen. “
Adam Bodendieck, director of homelessness services at CPO, said he believes it is possible to open a shelter every night, especially if they can find a few larger reception sites. This would allow them to regroup the volunteers and facilitate transportation.
Right now they have smaller hosting sites planned for the winter and will continue to look for other, hopefully larger, hosting sites.
Volunteers are needed to spend the night in the shelters.
Those who stay overnight in shelters help clients register and get a bed or mat to sleep on. These volunteers take turns sleeping in a private room, so that someone is always awake and with the guests.
Stadler said they will continue to work with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and follow CDC guidelines to protect everyone from COVID-19. Everyone is required to wear masks, except when sleeping, eating or drinking. And a distance of six feet is a must.
“This is something all of our shelters took very seriously over the past year,” she said, “and will continue to do so this year.”
Stadler, as well as some of the volunteers from last year, created a video in which they answered some common questions and concerns and talked about their volunteer experience. Find it on CPO’s Crisis Cold Weather Shelter website.
The Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness provides training for volunteers.
“We need more people who are willing to give up one night in the season, two nights in the season, one night a month – whatever,” Bodendieck said.
The program also needs financial support, he said, as well as volunteers who can help clean up in the morning, do laundry or help with transportation.
“There is no shortage of ways to get involved,” he said. “If you want to be involved in any way, in any form, we’ll find a way.”
City plans to offer free bus rides for those seeking shelter
Transportation was the critical need that was discussed at length on Thursday.
Right now, City Utilities plans to offer free rides to those seeking shelter with a bus that will run for a few hours in the evening and a few hours in the morning.
CU’s Director of Transit Matt Crawford attended Thursday’s meeting to explain some of the challenges of transportation and why this bus won’t be enough this year.
Due to COVID-19, CU buses are operating at reduced capacity. At this time, they can carry 25 or 28 people, depending on the available bus.
Last year, some of the accommodation sites were located in southeast Springfield, which was about a 40-minute round trip from the Veteran’s Coming Home Center (the day reception center that serves as a pick-up point in the evening and where people are dropped off in the morning).
If the only bus shuttles between people and accommodation sites for about two hours in the evening and two hours in the morning, it will be impossible to transport the 80 to 150 people expected to the various accommodation sites around Springfield, Crawford explained.
“On top of that, currently this year we are still struggling to find a full staff. We are understaffed among our bus operators,” Crawford said. “It’s not for lack of trying. We continue to have assignments for the bus operators, and I think we will be back to full strength or almost maybe by the end of the year. But I don’t think we currently have the capacity to add a second bus. “
The summit participants then broke into working groups to brainstorm solutions.
Here are some of their ideas that will be explored:
Someone suggested contacting Fisk Transportation to ask if they could help out or possibly hire a bus or van.
Others suggested doing the same with MSU’s Bear Line, OATS or possibly renting an old school bus.
Church vans could be of great help with transportation.
Community Partnership of the Ozarks has a bus. At present, they are not authorized to drive the bus.
Crawford said he would be happy to provide a list of retired bus drivers who might be interested in helping out at a lower cost than CU paying overtime to its bus operators.
“We are looking for all potential ideas,” Bodendieck said. “I mean, we ask a lot of City Utilities and they’ve always been successful. We’re very grateful to Matt and his team of drivers. But we know we need more.”
If you or your organization can help in any way with the transport, complete the “Partner Interest Form” at cpozarks.org/crisis-cold-weather-shelters.
A group of churches announced earlier this month that they would like to create an alternative winter shelter open every night. Since the two groups – these churches and the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness – are still working on plans, it’s not clear if or how they’ll coordinate their efforts.
These churches include The Connecting Grounds, Brentwood Christian Church, National Avenue Christian Church, First Unitarian Universalist, Unity of Springfield, and Pitts Chapel.