‘A time to step up’: Safety net nonprofits expand outreach, capacity amid pandemic
Given the job loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits’ social services were greatly impacted.
Over a year into the pandemic, many local nonprofits are now able to meet the increased need for services through the CARES grant, with $3.2 million dollars going specifically to safety net businesses and the nonprofits so far.
Hospitality House is a congregate living shelter in Grass Valley, founded in 2005 by folk singer Utah Phillips in collaboration with other local residents who saw the need for a coordinated response to regional homelessness.
Hospitality House Director of Administration and Finance Joel Radtke said 24% of the shelter’s budget is funded by individual donations, and the remainder through grants and contracts. The ratio has not changed much since the pandemic’s onset, Radtke said, as the nonprofit has built a solid funding foundation over the years with contracts, grants and donors that support its mission.
Ashley Quadros, development director for Hospitality House, said the demand for services increased, but noted the particular — and necessary — toll the pandemic’s restrictions had on social work employees.
“We shifted primarily as operating an overnight shelter to a 24 hours, seven-day-a-week shelter,” Quadros explained. “That’s been our biggest shift, 14 to 15 months later we’re still going strong.”
Quadros said going from offering overnight services to 24/7 operations skyrocketed expenses through the occupants’ food needs alone.
Before the pandemic, Hospitality House had a total of 300 volunteers who brought their own donated food to cook and serve at the shelter six nights a week.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the volunteer program was suspended.
The resulting operational loss was absorbed by Hospitality House’s existing staff.
“Our part-time chef at the time stepped up to meet the immediate increase in demand, easily working 60 to 80 hours a week to fill the void until more staffing (was hired),” Quadros said. “We are still today 15 months later operating without cooking volunteers.”
Quadros said Hospitality House took the risk of COVID-19 seriously, and had a vested and long-term interest in ensuring volunteers didn’t pass the virus on to their clients, and vice versa.
“The prospect of hundreds of volunteers coming and going throughout the week wasn’t practical, nor safe,” Quadros said, adding that the risk is now mitigated because of the ample availability of vaccines.
Quadros said volunteers continue to support the shelter from afar by covering the cost of their normal food donations.
“They send what they normally spend to bring food,” Quadros explained, adding that some longtime volunteer groups or individuals donate regularly, according to their former cooking schedule.
Quadros said as demand increased, physical capacity inside the shelter decreased given social distancing requirements.
“In a matter of hours (of the government shutdown in mid-March 2020) we had to remove 15 bunk beds from shelters,” Quadros said. The downsize was onsite only, as Hospitality House worked with the county to relocate those most vulnerable to COVID-19 to local motels. “In turn, we took on even more people and families in need this past year.”
Hospitality House, Nevada County, Communities Beyond Violence, Turning Point Providence Center, FREED Center for Independent Living and Sierra Roots have all come together over this past year at times, combining resources, time and staffing, to shelter and help as many people as possible.
At one point, the collective partnership was serving people across seven motels, in addition to 55 people in Utah’s Place, Hospitality House’s physical shelter.
At present, eight children and 32 adults are using Hospitality House’s affiliated motels.
Quadros said the silver lining of impacted services is that more people are receiving the assistance and services they need, particularly those most vulnerable to the coronavirus’ physical risks.
Quadros noted those necessary services do come with a cost.
“This is a crises,” Quadros explained. “This is not a time to slow down. This is a time to step up — when the community needs now from us more than ever.”
Quadros said it’s hard for her to imagine post-pandemic life in the shelter because of the strict public health mandates that remain in place to protect the 95 people currently housed by the organization.
Intake into the facility was more rigorous, given the state’s robust COVID-19 safety protocols. Hospitality House received people in cohorts, Quadros explained, and they remained in a dorm for 14 days before entering the general living facility. Those with a medical condition, seeking housing and working a job got special permissions to leave. Once inside, twice-a-week testing of guests was required.
“As it stands today, the shelter is no longer sheltering in place after 15 long months. And Outreach Dorm, which previously served as a provisional quarantine during COVID-19, is back to operating under a Housing First model,” Quadros said,
Outreach Dorm allowed guests at varied points in their battle against addiction to come and go as they please — albeit a spot was not guaranteed.
Quadros said Hospitality House continues to provide personal protective equipment to all its guests and staff, conducts regular onsite COVID-19 testing, and offers ongoing direct access to vaccinations at the shelter.
“You could be under the influence and struggling, you could have your animal with you and you could leave in the morning and decide to come back,” Quadros said of the Hospitality House pre-pandemic and once again, as of Tuesday.
Quadros said during quarantine, there was no coming and going. The safety-oriented measures to protect guests and employees of Hospitality House created a higher barrier for social service recipients to receive the care they need.
“If you decide you want shelter, you must go through the steps to quarantine so you can be in a situation where you’re mingling with guests,“ she said.
Despite the year’s challenges, Hospitality served 639 people. Two hundred thirty-four of those social service recipients stayed at the shelter or the affiliated motels.
Megan Calarco, Food Bank of Nevada County volunteer coordinator, said she was hired in August through special COVID-19 relief funds issued by the governor to fortify the nonprofit’s outreach efforts during this period of acute need.
“Gavin Newsom put out a grant that paid for however many AmeriCorps service years across the state of California,” Calarco said. ”We’re supposed to be capacity building so if something like COVID-19 were to happen again, the food bank could better handle the crises.“
Calarco said her position is paid for until August by the government, but sees the need for a volunteer coordinator to become a permanent position, accounted for in the food bank’s annual budget.
Calarco wasn’t present for the first five months of the pandemic, but said the food bank had very few volunteers due to fear of coronavirus contagion.
“As soon as the initial scare went away, volunteers felt more comfortable,” Calarco said, adding that she was able to cultivate real and lasting relationships with people who donated their time.
Calarco noted that a significant number of volunteers who helped out regularly before March 2020 returned this May.
“In the last month many volunteers came back that haven’t in a year,” Calarco explained. “It was definitely difficult because there was a really big need in the community and we didn’t necessarily have the staff or volunteers for it.”
According to Nevada County’s website, the food bank received $100,000 is CARES Grant funding to support increased demand for necessary food delivery services to vulnerable populations.
Calarco said the food bank is currently feeding double the people it nourished pre-pandemic, but is anticipating a reduction in need for support as more vaccines are issued and businesses reopen to full capacity.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com
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