SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – In anticipation of colder weather, when shelter becomes a necessity, Helping Hands of Springfield is partnering with healthcare organizations to build the confidence of local homeless residents.
The shelter, which has a capacity of 71 for homeless men, recently partnered with Fifth Street Renaissance and healthcare organizations to administer COVID-19 vaccines and provide food, among other services, The Journal-State Register reports.
“What we really want to do is make sure people are safe and have access to the vaccine,” said Erica Smith, executive director of Helping Hands. “We are very interested, especially with the cold weather coming, to make sure that as many people as possible that you are hosting are vaccinated. “
Helping Hands hosted its second immunization clinic on October 6, both times in partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health. Smith said 17 people have been vaccinated. During the first clinic, 85% of the people accommodated at the time received a vaccine.
According to Smith, Fifth Street Renaissance also served 140 meals. Meals included fries, water, hot dogs and burgers grilled by executive director Penny Harris. She said the shutdown was part of the organization’s “COVID project” which provides educational materials, screenings and meals.
Shelter workers and other volunteers traveled to nearby camps to talk to residents about the COVID-19 vaccination clinic and meals. Smith said that “the compliance rate increases exponentially” when nursing students from St. John’s College of Nursing or medical professionals are also in the camps, many of which are found along the coast. 11th street next to the refuge.
“We know that people who are homeless have additional health factors that make it even more important to make sure they don’t contract COVID,” Smith said.
Shelter manager Ronetta Hamilton and Smith, while reflecting on last winter, the first fully in the COVID-19 pandemic, both agreed the organization had grown with needs.
Under the rules of the shelter in place, Hamilton said the staff and residents of the shelter have become a “family of 50.” Smith, however, said she does not anticipate the same strict rules this winter when the number of shelters increases.
“The same things people did in their homes to protect each other, we were all doing them here. And I can’t say enough good things about how the men on the whole took care of each other and took care of themselves and wanted to be healthy this year, ”Smith said.
Each week during the school year, a group of about seven nursing students from St. John’s help out at the shelter. Every alternate Wednesday, Hospital Sisters Health System hosts a hand and foot clinic for residents.
“They were a little shy about it and just couldn’t imagine how it related to their nursing education,” St. John’s Chancellor Dr. Charlene Aaron said of many students during their first visit to the refuge. “And then from day one they were here, as the hours passed and it was almost time to leave, they didn’t want to leave.”
Memorial Health also provided assistance and Smith said the central county health centers were “invaluable” in helping to understand how they could obtain prescriptions and other items for residents who were unable to leave during the crisis. period of accommodation on site.
At the start of the ongoing pandemic, Hamilton said there had been a surge in donations and support from private donors and local organizations, including United Way of Central Illinois, Housing Action Illinois and First Presbyterian Church of Springfield. , among others.
“That support is what really allowed us to be able to do the shelter in place 24 hours a day,” Hamilton said, “because we’ve had a lot of changes to do, to be able to provide all of these services, to have 24/7 staff.
Joe Aiello, supervisor of the Capital Township board of directors, said he estimates the township has donated nearly 16,000 meals to homeless people in the past three years.
Private donations could pay for medical payments and prescriptions if a shelter resident was uninsured, Smith said.
“We just started paying for things we could never have before. … We just had the money to say, ‘Let’s do this,’ ”Smith said.
Smith and Hamilton, who oversee the organization’s rapid relocation program, said the ongoing pandemic has revealed how necessary shelter or accommodation is to quarantine properly during a public health crisis . This philosophy fundamentally changed the organization, Hamilton said.
“It has really been an amazing year for us to grow and build relationships with clients, but also to house them,” said Hamilton. “It has been a stressful two years, but it has been an incredible two years for our agencies. We have evolved so much in these two years.
The shelter has helped provide temporary housing to more than 60 people as part of the rapid relocation program, which was launched amid the pandemic, Hamilton said. Many of the people who were part of the program live independently and pay their own bills. A graduation ceremony is scheduled for October 19.
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Local Heartland Continuum of Care, an organization designated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that focuses on housing the vulnerable, recently hired Nick Dodson to help administer 30 housing vouchers for local residents of homeless city and county of Sangamon.
Dodson’s position is based on Helping Hands. Money was provided for these vouchers through the US federal bailout law. Heartland Continuum members said they see affordable housing as a viable solution to effectively ending chronic homelessness in Springfield.
Smith said shelter workers began a conversation with residents about housing options soon after consulting Helping Hands. The names of these residents are then placed on a list and housing is administered according to the most urgent needs.
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