MICHIGAN CITY — In a time when the government is urging everyone to stay home, the vulnerability of the country’s homeless population has been exacerbated.
That fact isn’t lost on the Home Team of La Porte County, comprised of homeless service providers, nonprofits, government groups, funders and other interested citizens.
They met via webinar on March 16 to discuss plans to continue serving the homeless locally, and to identify which supplies are needed at Michigan City’s shelters.
“Our homeless population is a high-risk population that needs support,” said Home Team Coordinator Ed Seal. “And it’s important to the broader community that we protect the homeless. I think in doing so, we’re also protecting the community at large, as our homeless population frequently uses public spaces.”
For now, all local shelters and the Keys to Hope Resource Center will continue to function under their normal hours of operation and with normal admission criteria, according to Home Team Coordinator Ed Seal.
However, as clients come in, they will answer additional screening questions and volunteers will make sure they’re not exhibiting symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.
Each facility will also undergo more stringent cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
“We are following closely the CDC guidelines for shelter providers and monitoring Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) recommendations,” Seal said.
He said securing supplies for the shelters, as well as funding to cover the increased cost of those supplies during this time of social distancing, also was discussed during Monday’s web conference.
“Currently, they have everything they need,” Seal said,” but we’re concerned about the long term and making sure this is not an ongoing crisis.”
Harrison Holtkamp, executive director of Interfaith Community PADS, said that while they are working to convert the old Sacred Heart Church into a permanent homeless shelter, the shelter continues to rotate nightly between seven Michigan City churches.
As it does so, volunteers have been working to ensure the shelter’s “footprint” in each space is minimal by serving boxed meals, keeping large groups of people out of church kitchens; and by using 10-percent bleach and quaternary solutions on all touch surfaces at least four times every 12 hours.
As it stands, Holtkamp said, Interfaith Community PADS remains in need of volunteers, and is seeking donations of any supplies to help mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19:
“These are our friends and neighbors, and they need help,” Holtkamp said.
“Sometimes, it’s easier for one than it is for the other.
“You never know what type of barriers they’re facing. So, we’re just going to continue being there for people. I just feel it’s the right thing to do.”
Jim Musial, executive director of Citizens Concerned for the Homeless (CCH), agreed.
“When it comes to helping the homeless and the disenfranchised in this community, we’re front and center every single day – and that won’t stop,” he said.
Musial said the Sand Castle Shelter, Keys to Hope Resource Center and all basic needs services remain available to those who need them.
However, Grace Learning Center and all other nonessential CCH services are closed to the public until it is safe to convene in groups once again.
Currently, CCH is seeking help with client transportation and donations of:
Major Becky Simmons from the Salvation Army of Michigan City said her organization’s men’s shelter is still scheduled to run from April 15 through Oct. 15, as it has in years past.
“The homeless have no choice but to live in shelters, and our shelters are group living,” Simmons said.
“At this point, we really don’t have any other options. However, I think we’ll need to increase our screening of people who are ill. We’re working on a plan for when somebody is ill – how do we respond to that?
“And just trying to keep good hygiene, both for our clients and for keeping the facility strong. … The number-one focus is always what is best for the client – in any services we provide, period.
“I just want to make sure that people are cared for at the very best level and not hurt.”
The Salvation Army is not accepting new volunteers at this time as a result of the global pandemic.
But they are seeking donations of evening meals for shelter clients, which were provided previously by Pita Shak, which closed to the public in 2019; as well as boxes to aid with food distribution at the organization’s food pantry.