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Bloomington's Various Emergency Shelters Serve Different Populations

An inside look at the new homeless shelter in Bloomington along the B-Line trail.

(Joey Mendolia, WFIU/WTIU News)

Homeless advocates in Bloomington have spent most of the winter trying to connect individuals experiencing homelessness with shelter to escape the cold.

But shelters are not one size fits all.

Shelby Querry, a board member for the Bloomington Homeless Coalition, said many factors including having a pet, religious beliefs and sobriety can prevent individuals from seeking shelter.

“Homelessness isn’t monolithic,” Querry said. “Some people don’t want to sleep in a shelter if they can’t sleep next their partner or if they have to leave their dog outside.” 

Beacon, Inc., opened its winter shelter about a month ago to accommodate those who didn’t feel comfort in Monroe County’s existing shelters, and they extended their daytime center’s hours to provide a warm space during the day. Executive Director Forrest Gilmore said the low barrier shelter has stayed consistently full — a testament to the need for emergency shelter options in Bloomington.

“Low barrier is about trying to create as few obstacles as possible for people trying to access services,” Gilmore said. 

Beacon interviewed more than 40 unhoused individuals prior to opening the shelter and Gilmore said that influenced how they operate the former gymnasium that now sleeps 49 community members nearly every night. Their shelter welcomes couples and individuals with pets. While drinking and drug use is prohibited on shelter premises, intoxicated individuals can come to the shelter, as well as individuals who don’t have medications they may need.

READ MORE: Cold Weather And Rising COVID Numbers Concern Advocates For Homeless Population

Other shelters such as Middle Way House, New Hope For Families and Wheeler Mission have different policies and therefore  serve slightly different populations. Middle Way House offers emergency shelter to individuals experiencing violence (domestic abuse, human trafficking, sexual violence, etc.), and New Hope For Families is the only emergency family shelter in Monroe County.

Dana Jones, the director of Wheeler Mission’s Center for Men, said they utilize an approach called trauma-informed care that assumes an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma. For that reason, they separate men and women into two different overnight shelters.

“To go in and check into a shelter and spend the night with people you don’t know can be daunting to anyone,” Jones said. “We really want to help those who have experienced trauma to find a safe place to stay.”

Wheeler Mission also offers a co-ed daytime shelter staffed with a male and female employee where couples can be together, and, like Beacon, they’ve extended their hours to provide refuge from the cold.

But after the winter turns to spring, Querry said a portion of Bloomington’s community will still be without homes, and there will still be a need to provide for individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Shelter is not an answer but a bandage,” Querry said. “Now, we have to hand off the mic and listen to what our neighbors experiencing homelessness need.”

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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