KANKAKEE — Fortitude Community Outreach, the nonprofit which provides emergency nightly shelters within Kankakee County, has locations to operate shelters four nights a week. It currently has about eight people taking shelter during those nights.
The organization, led by Dawn Broers, is also working at gaining two additional locations so service can be provided six nights a week.
The problem facing the organization is the lack of healthy volunteers. Broers said the rotating shelters are averaging eight occupants per night, but when cold, winter weather arrives, that number will likely increase to 18-20.
As a result, Fortitude will be making daily decisions by noon on whether shelters will be open that night. Currently, Fortitude is operating shelters from 6:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Broers said that day’s shelter decision will be posted to its Facebook page and on the door of that night’s shelter location.
She said the organization is attempting to create some emergency plans as well regarding how to provide homeless shelter in these difficult days of pandemic.
“Really what it comes down to is staffing,” she said. “We have to start getting creative about how we can care for people. We are doing everything we can to stay open each night we have a shelter.”
She is hoping that at least during these days of surging COVID-19 positivity rates within Kankakee County that St. Paul’s Lutheran School, where shelters are being offered on Tuesday and Friday, can be used for additional nights on a “temporary, emergency basis.”
Fortitude, which unsuccessfully sought to make St. Paul’s school is permanent shelter this summer, began offering its four-night-a-week service on Nov. 3.
“We need a community response,” she said of the homeless. “We need the community to come together for some solutions.”
Regarding the current issue of staffing problems associated with positivity rates, she said several members of her volunteer staff have been faced with being quarantined. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer must complete the needed training, which can be found on the Fortitude Community Outreach website at fortitudecommunityoutreach.org.
“We are always committed to sheltering the homeless as safely as we can, however we are able, and since we opened this season, we have limped along often with a skeleton crew,” she wrote in a email to supporters. Broers noted she has been directly exposed to someone with the illness and has been quarantined herself.
She noted that not offering shelter places the homeless in a terrible position.
“It’s a lose-lose situation. I don’t want what appears to be the unselfish decision to do everything possible to provide shelter becoming a selfish decision of risking health and lives of staff, volunteers and guests.”
She added: “We will stay open as often and as long as we can and we promise we will do everything we can to serve, feed and shelter in a way that is safest for our community as a whole.”