Simplified: From an ice storm to a week of sub-zero temperatures to a full-on blizzard, Sioux Falls' severe winter weather means the streets are not a safe place to spend a night. Nonetheless, local shelters are keeping up with demand – even while dealing with their own weather-related challenges.
Why it matters
- When weather is as severe as it has been in the last month, a night out in the cold quickly can become a life or death situation. That's why local homeless shelters are so important.
- The Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, Union Gospel Mission, St. Francis House and Minnehaha County have worked together to make sure anyone who shows up looking for shelter has a safe place to stay so far this winter.
- Part of what's helped make that happen is an increased focus on getting folks out of shelters as quickly as possible through working with case managers and community resources.
"We don't want people to stay in the shelters any longer than they have to," said Kari Benz, director of human services for Minnehaha County. "So collectively we have all just had that approach of doing a better job of connecting with people, assessing their needs and connecting them with supports, so they can leave the shelter."
What are the big challenges in keeping people sheltered?
Capacity is at the top of the list
- The Bishop Dudley House is frequently full, and the nonprofit has even added a real-time capacity counter to its website.
- The Union Gospel Mission has also been offering cots to folks who aren't mission guests but do need a warm place to stay. Right now they've got between 30 and 40 cots available, but if more staffing was possible, they'd be able to increase to 50 or 60 cots per night, said Elly Heckel, communications and marketing development director at the mission.
Staffing is also frequently a challenge for shelters, and Heckel said that's become an even more apparent need and struggle in last week since a pipe burst on the third floor of the mission building, leaving extensive damage.
Housing for families is also a particularly tricky need, and the county has needed to do more to help house families. It can be difficult, Benz said, because there's no way to really know how much space is needed as family sizes can range quite a bit.
What about the burst pipe at the mission?
Yeah – that hasn't made things any easier.
The pipe burst on the fourth floor of the building on Dec. 27, and water damage seeped all the way to the basement.
- Not much damage was done on the fourth floor – which was already under construction for a future family housing unit.
- But lower levels saw serious flooding, enough to ruin all 48 beds in the women's shelter, all the kids stuff in the kids program and everything that was in the thrift store.
In the week since the damage was done, the mission has seen an influx of volunteers. They've been able to dry out the clothes from the thrift store and bale them – with a plan to eventually sell them and send them off to be recycled.
The women displaced by flooding were largely able to find shelter at the St. Francis House in the meantime.
How can I help?
If you want to help the mission continue to recover from the burst pipe, you can make monetary donations here.
If you want to help without spending money, consider volunteering. Help serve a meal at one of the shelters, for example.
"If you really want to give a gift, give your time and attention to somebody because that's imperative," Benz said.