APPLETON, Wis. — Parked bikes of visitors are lined up outside of Pillars Adult Shelter, as temperatures drop and COVID-19 lingers, homeless shelters have stayed busy.
"It’s difficult, we’ve had to create additional physical space between our clients,” says Lisa Strandberg, community engagement director at Pillars. “Our capacity was actually reduced in order to allow that adequate spacing and keep our clients safe.”
Working in collaboration with the city of Appleton, Pillars has received additional grants that have helped provide additional beds, however the challenge remains, making sure everyone is safely distanced through COVID-19 concerns.
Organizations know they’ll need more beds this winter— their options include opening another location or placing people in temporary hotel space.
"Once the temperature hits 10 degrees, then we don’t turn anyone away, we basically just make space... but now with COVID we have to think differently about that,” says Strandberg.
Staffing is another concern. Fewer volunteers makes it hard to expand.
Harold Monroe, a client of Pillars who depends on housing, says he’s just trying to stay positive.
"[With] COVID you always have to stay on your toes. I find myself constantly readjusting making sure I’m sanitizing. It’s a must and a necessity. I had to become homeless to restart my life, and there’s always a need,” says Monroe.
Currently about 120 people stay at both Pillars shelters located in Appleton that serves the Fox Valley area.
Pillars also tries to help people before they become homeless as well.
"[This] is a program that tries to catch people on the verge of homelessness and prevent a shelter stay, so that may mean financial assistance. That’s really where we’re seeing a lot more demand and anticipating an even greater demand,” says Strandberg.
A plan of action is not yet concrete as to how local shelters will provide services through colder temperatures, space restrictions and stretched staffing numbers.
For Pillars, the top priority is to remain and provide aid for those struggling families.