(BLOOMINGTON) – Together with the Monroe County government, the City of Bloomington is supporting a new Winter Contingency Shelter for Women to house up to 40 women currently experiencing homelessness.
Each governmental entity will commit $54,250 toward the operational costs of a shelter at Wheeler Mission from November through March.
The projected capacity of Bloomington’s emergency shelters has decreased about 25% from 249 beds in 2019 to 187 beds this season, a drop most acutely affecting women without housing in the area. On top of the loss of 35 beds upon the closure of Wheeler Mission’s women’s shelter in July, capacity to house women both at A Friend’s Place and at Middle Way House (serving those coping with domestic violence) has decreased since last winter due to COVID-19 protocols.
The shortage of accommodations for women has resulted in a population estimated at around 40 women currently camping in tents outdoors in Bloomington, according to a census conducted by Centerstone, Beacon, and the Bloomington Police Department’s Downtown Resource Officers. The majority of these women are over 45 years old, statistically placing them at a higher level of vulnerability with regard to crime as well as COVID-19.
“We are grateful to partner and help establish housing for women without it during these difficult times,” said Mayor John Hamilton. “We know the pandemic disproportionately affects our most vulnerable residents–and our social service agencies have been working tirelessly to serve their needs. With winter coming, and the pandemic still among us, it’s so important to do all we can to help provide warm, safe places for our residents without them.”
Wheeler Mission has the capacity for up to 40 women but lacked the funding to staff the facility, resulting in the closure of its women’s shelter earlier this year. The City and County are funding the shelter through March 30, 2021. Although Wheeler Mission is a faith-based organization, those using the winter shelter will be welcomed but not required to participate in religious activities during their stay.
The need for a winter shelter for women was identified by the area shelter directors who have since April coordinated operation of an isolation shelter for those experiencing homelessness and needing to isolate due to COVID-19. The isolation shelter coordination group is a subset of the City’s social services task force, a group of local philanthropic leaders convened by Mayor Hamilton at the outset of the pandemic. The isolation shelter has been operated through funding provided by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and administered by the City of Bloomington.