BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Forced to stay out in the cold as wicked weather combines with the pandemic; many non-profits changing capacity limits in shelters due to COVID-19.
Many of us have a place to go and warm up, but for those who are homeless, the bitter cold puts them at greater risk.
Non-profits in Bloomington-Normal said the pandemic is making it even harder to help those that need it.
Matt Burgess the chief operating officer of Home Sweet Home Ministries in Bloomington said cold weather is already a challenge for shelters in the area. He said the pandemic is adding to the challenges.
“With the pandemic, we’ve had to adjust our utilization of space,” Burgess said.
Home Sweet Home Ministries helps men, women, and families, but this year there is only room for around “50ish” people. Burgess said that’s about half of their normal capacity.
“We’ve had to take some of the beds out of use to ensure social distancing within the shelter to minimize the chances of the virus spreading,” Burgess said. “We still have space available for women and for families. We’re full for men right now, but we are able to serve women and families who present to us in need of shelter.”
Burgess says during normal years, the shelter welcomes residents and non-residents to warmup in the lobby or lounge areas, but this year that service is stopped.
“We are not as able to be as flexible with that because it’s just not safe; the virus is still in our community and spreading,” Burgess said. “Our priority is/has to be protecting those that were sheltering here first.”
Bloomington’s Salvation Army faced with similar problems; an outbreak there in November left staff to limit who comes in and out. Assistant Director of Social Services Austin Howald said only those who qualify are allowed in.
“We decided that we would not allow new people to come stay due to the risk of infection,” Howald said.
Howald said this week the agency is offering the safety net program, an option for those not eligible for regular services.
Normally those looking for relief from the cold could stay in the lobby, the pandemic taking that option away too. Howald said this year they’re working with Providing Access To Help (PATH) Crisis Center to provide those not eligible a roof under their heads during the next week in a hotel.
“Right now, we’re kind of relying on community partners to collaborate with us and protect those individuals,” Howald said.
If you’re in need of a place to stay and keep warm you’re encouraged to call United Way’s 2-1-1 service.