Offering hope during a pandemic
New London Mission of Hope still advocating for homeless
By John Faucher
Homeless shelters across the state have had to adapt their operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need for shelter, basic survival supplies, transportation and affordable housing do not go away during a pandemic, they just get harder to obtain.
Some shelters have had to reduce their populations; others temporarily closed and had to re-shelter clients elsewhere.
Mission of Hope House in New London was not immune.
Prior to COVID-19, the 21-bed facility, located at 520 N. Shawano St., maintained an average occupancy of 13-16 residents plus staff.
By early April of this year, COVID 19 caused a staffing shortage at MOHH.
There wasn’t enough staff to cover the shelter 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they were forced to close.
Mission of Hope continued to provide case management along with alternate food and shelter services for their clients throughout the four month closure.
“We’re grateful we were able to keep people off the streets,” said Mission of Hope House Executive Director Andrew Wilson.
He said some were re-sheltered to other shelters or apartments of their own. Some were re-sheltered to a hotel situation until they could move on to something private.
Changes since reopening
Wilson said the MOHH reopened on Aug. 25 with some changes due to the ongoing pandemic.
“In order to keep people safe we limited our census to 10 so we can ensure social distancing and make sure there weren’t too many people coming and going,” Wilson said.
They’ve also implemented temperature checks, and symptom screenings for all staff, clients and visitors who enter the shelter.
“We do have a quarantine room set up just in case someone presents symptoms based on the questionnaire that we present to them.
“Thankfully we haven’t had to use it yet,” Wilson said.
They have not seen any positive cases at the shelter.
Since re-opening, MOHH is averaging its new max of 10 residents on a consistent basis.
“Many of the other shelters in the area are also limiting their populations right now,” said Wilson. “That means there are more people on a wait list unfortunately”
Wilson said Mission of Hope House is working closely with other agencies and shelters in the region to coordinate entry for clients based on individual needs.
The average length of stay for clients at Mission of Hope House is 53 days.
In addition to food and shelter, MOHH provides a case manager who works with each client to set goals to become self-sufficient.
The case manager meets with clients regularly to track progress.
MOHH also uses a network of volunteer professionals to offer classes on basic household finances, job skills training, forming healthy relationships and tips for finding affordable housing.
“For safety reasons we’ve turned all those classes into virtual which has actually been working quite well,” said Wilson.
“It required a little bit of a technology tweak, but that was kind of an easier pivot because the whole world is used to Zoom now,” he said.
MOHH also assists clients with educational needs, obtaining valid driver’s licenses, job searches and links to other supportive services.
By the numbers
In spite of the four-month closure, Mission of Hope House served 37 adults and 22 children in the past 11 months.
During that time, through its Meet the Need Program, MOHH also provided 1,346 items to 216 families in need of items to sustain themselves and make their lives better.
Wilson said the Meet the Needs Program helps people with all sorts of needs ranging from clothing, furniture, household items, groceries and gas vouchers.
“Even if they’re not living with us we still reach out,” said Wilson. “If they have that need, we will do what we can to meet it.”
Wilson said one of the most common needs they encounter is with transportation.
“Someone may live in Waupaca or New London and can work in Weyauwega, but they don’t have a way to get there. They may be out of gas, don’t have a vehicle, or the one they do have needs repair,” said Wilson.
“There is a gap in services in general as far as transportation in rural areas,” he added. “People may have a place to live but they just can’t get to their work.”
Wilson said another challenge for low wage earners in rural areas is finding housing.
“Finding access to affordable housing for low wage families is extremely difficult, especially with minimum wage the way it is.
So some people that might not have higher skills for professional jobs are always going to be stuck in that loop,” Wilson said.
“Unless we can change some of the base pay issues we’re going to be having that same uphill battle. And of course right now with an increased number of people out of work and evictions’ starting to happen again, that does not help,” he said.
Mission of Hope House is a non-profit organization governed by a board of directors. They are funded largely through donations and grants applied for by staff on an ongoing basis.
One of the programs directly supporting the MOHH is the Bridge Thrift Store located at 1931 N. Shawano St.
All of the store’s proceeds go towards Mission of Hope House.
The Bridge also provides opportunities for MOHH clients to gain work experience and contribute back to the mission.
The store is staffed mainly by volunteers from the community and it receives most of its items through local donations.
The Bridge actively assists families through the Meet the Needs Program year-round. It may be through reduced prices, or free items called pass-on items, or through store vouchers.
The store just moved to a new larger location in the strip mall next to Wal-Mart and Piggly Wiggly on New London’s North side.
Wilson said the new location is larger, more accessible and conveniently located.
“We’ve got a lot more foot traffic out there so we’re extremely excited about the new location,” said Wilson.
The store re-opened on Sept. 30 and is planning a grand opening for Oct. 10.
For more information on MOHH, or the Bridge Thrift Store go to Missionofhopehouse.org.