Gratitude: Reflections on shelter season 2020-21

By Shelter Manager Joe Wilmet

Our 2020-21 shelter season presented some unique challenges. As our leadership team prepared for the season amid a pandemic crisis, it became abundantly clear we would not be able to serve everyone in need while being responsible about social distancing. We realized we would need a second location and were able to secure use of the second floor of the Bay Lake City Center building downtown. Throughout the season, we had a few guests who tested positive for COVID. But because of our social distancing practices, our staff diligently enforcing wearing masks, and our policy of immediately isolating anyone who presented as symptomatic, we didn’t have a single occurrence of COVID spreading within shelter. NEW Community Clinic was instrumental in helping us get our symptomatic guests to the county’s isolation sites, as well as testing all guests and staff to ensure the virus did not spread.

Operating two shelters meant, in an ideal world, doubling the number of seasonal staff. We were not able to accomplish this at any point this season. However, those we had on staff worked tirelessly to serve our guests. This is a group of people who, for the most part, have full time jobs outside of shelter, are going to school or both. They reliably stepped up throughout the season, working much more than they initially committed to fill gaps in the schedule. And even though they were often likely stretched to the limit, they consistently presented to shelter with a positive attitude and a dedication to meet our guests’ needs with warmth and compassion. St. John’s vision statement reads ‘Through a spirit of familiarity, rapport and trust, each person will leave better than they came’. Our seasonal staff faithfully carried out this statement every day and night throughout the season.

We also received incredible contributions from our guest interns. These are individuals we had identified as leaders among our guests who were always willing to pitch in wherever needed. We brought them on in paid positions to help fill needs around shelter and ease the burden on our staff. They consistently went above and beyond their assigned responsibilities, and even helped fill some of our support and security shifts when needed. They performed all assigned tasks thoroughly, reliably and with a positive attitude. My greatest challenge as their supervisor was trying to get them to step away from helping out when they weren’t on the clock. It is no hyperbole when I say it would not have been possible to successfully operate two shelters without these dedicated individuals.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the amazing contributions of community members.  Due to COVID restrictions, we were unable to have as many volunteers on site as we normally would, but this didn’t stop these individuals from helping us serve our guests. From delivering warm meals to running laundry between locations to donating anything we sent out a request for, this community has unfailingly provided whatever is needed to ensure our homeless brothers and sisters are safe and secure throughout our shelter season.

Thank you to everyone who has helped make this challenging season a great success.

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