As we have wrapped up 2021, it’s natural to reflect on the previous year in its entirety. However, given the last 18 months, it’s difficult to separate the start of 2021 from the end of 2020. But perhaps that right there is the story of 2021, right?
Everyone’s lives changed when the pandemic hit our region in March 2020. Now, nearly two years later, we have all found ways to adjust and keep moving forward. Here we are, impacted daily by the ongoing effects of a global pandemic, all while carrying on with services as if we were not facing a worldwide health crisis. Despite the added challenges, we’ve continued to see the resilience and hope of humanity.
When the year started, we were operating two separate homeless shelters with additional leased space at a secondary downtown location to promote safe, social distancing while responding to the full need. We had no idea God would open doors for us to move our Micah Center services to a new location (612 Stuart Street). In early spring we were just beginning to explore a potential partnership with the City of Green Bay and the Green Bay Police Department to offer park outreach services in what would later become known as Engage. We have continued to push on, responding to the needs of those experiencing homelessness in the greater Green Bay area, expanding our programs, and remaining committed to our original mission as a seasonal emergency shelter of last resort.
Here are some of the unique challenges St. John’s faced in 2021.
Challenge 1: Throughout our history, St. John’s has remained unique in our commitment to not operate with a capacity, knowing that as a shelter of last resort denial from our services means someone is living on the streets in harsh winter elements. Throughout COVID, we have been able to continue providing access to overnight, emergency shelter services for an unprecedented need, while also ensuring safety and proper social distancing to protect the full community.
Challenge 2: As I’ve previously discussed, individuals experiencing homelessness are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Eighty percent of those experiencing homelessness will try at least one new drug while homeless, with treatment proving nearly impossible if not accompanied by supportive housing. Those experiencing homelessness are significantly more likely to identify mental health barriers. These systemic issues are prevalent throughout the pandemic, yet sometimes overlooked by the magnitude of the health crisis. Trying to address all issues is challenging, but one our case management team approaches with resolve.
Challenge 3: While much of the nation transitioned to work-from-home positions. which allowed employees to navigate the ongoing concerns related to their own health, as well as the continuing challenges balancing virtual school and limited childcare, essential workers had to find other ways to respond during the pandemic. Our staff has remained committed, showing up and serving selflessly through the most trying of times!
Looking Ahead to 2022
As we enter 2022, we are excited to have all our locations running with their full programming schedules. We have an aggressive strategic plan committed to serving the needs of our community’s vulnerable homeless population, while also getting upstream to address systemic issues. Knowing the strength of our team and what they have done during this global pandemic, we are now more convinced than ever that we truly can create lasting change for each guest we serve and for this community we call home.