The third season of the Jackson County Cold Night Out Shelter was supposed to start Saturday.
Director Sondra Gentry, however, said she doesn’t have enough host sites.
As a result, the Cold Night Out board recently voted to move the opening date to Jan. 2, 2021. The original closing date of Feb. 26 will remain the same.
“We do not have an intake site for Saturday or Sunday, so there will be no new guests accepted on the weekend. Only nine guests can be housed per night,” Gentry said. “These were difficult decisions.”
Despite the delay, Gentry did have some good news: A volunteer in Indianapolis has offered to help keep guests and volunteers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic by building plexiglass partitions between the cots at the sites for the overnight emergency shelter.
While the man is volunteering the work, Gentry said the materials have to be purchased. Each partition costs $140, and nine are needed.
Anyone interested in helping cover that cost may contact Gentry at 317-590-2595.
When the shelter opens, there will be COVID-19 policies in place to address air ventilation, masks for guests, social distancing, temperatures taken at intake, shields and masks for intake, masks for volunteers, additional cleaning procedures and limiting guests to one bag of belongings.
Volunteers will be able to view three Cold Night Out training videos, including one addressing COVID-19 in the shelter population. Gentry said she and Scott Larrison are meeting with coordinators to discuss ways for the changes to work in each host site. Information will be posted on the Cold Night Out Facebook page, facebook.com/coldnightout.
Another challenge is how to house people infected with the virus since the shelter isn’t and can’t be offered 24 hours. Gentry said ideas and suggestions are welcomed.
In the new year, Gentry has received confirmation from The Alley and First Baptist Church in Seymour to provide meals and an intake location Monday through Friday and Bethel Community Church, Seymour Harvest Church and Cornerstone Community Church to serve as host sites, all in Seymour. Reddington Christian Church will host with Bethel.
Also, Gentry said Rails Craft Brew and Eatery in Seymour has offered to provide meals for volunteers.
The host site typically changes to a different church from week to week. After signing in and eating a meal at the intake site, guests are transported to the host church, where they stay from 6 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.
As people navigate winter weather and the COVID-19 pandemic, Gentry expects the number of people served to increase.
Last winter, 75 people received assistance. That’s compared to 60 the previous winter, which was when the shelter started. A day shelter also was offered from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. weekdays last winter.
“This winter, we are faced with a pandemic that requires additional safeguards in the way we will operate, but surely that will not stop us from helping others get back to living a healthy independent life,” Gentry said.
In helping people, Gentry said they look at five areas: Medically, physically, socially, emotionally and education. The guests set goals for themselves and what they want to accomplish, including obtaining housing, making a budget, getting a job and pursuing education.
“We call it a handup, not a handout,” she said. “Anybody that comes through, they get a plan, and we work on that plan to try to get them stable.”
Along with day and night shelter housing last winter, guests received assistance in the form of car transportation, bus passes, hotel housing, haircuts, prescriptions and meals.
One guest received help purchasing a car, while another was provided funds to complete their high school diploma. Plus, guests had medical and dental care paid for and received assistance with clothing, toiletries and bedding.
Center for Congregations provided funding for equipment, transportation, training, showers, laundry, office supplies and consultant activities, and churches, businesses, organizations and many individuals came alongside to keep the shelter operating, Gentry said.
Plus, the support resulted in furniture, bikes and food for guests to move into their own apartments.
“Truly, you gave a hand up 75 times at a value of $47,649,” Gentry said in a recent letter to the community.
As the weather changes, Gentry said it’s time for the county to meet the challenge of offering a hand up to one another.
“Jackson County remains an amazing community,” she said. “God bless you as we move together to fulfill Matthew 25:35.”
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For information about Jackson County Cold Night Out Shelter or to serve as a host site, call the Rev. Sondra Gentry at 317-590-2595 or visit facebook.com/coldnightout.