More hotel and motel rooms become available to address homelessness in Clark County

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Additional hotel and motel rooms in the area have become available for the homeless as that type of lodging has become an important source of emergency shelter amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since March, hundreds of people have requested emergency shelter services in Clark County as local homelessness has increased during the pandemic.

More people have been transitioned into hotel and motels used for emergency shelter since the fall, said Shannon Meadows, the community development director for the City of Springfield.

“The best way to deal with emergency shelter in the middle of a health crisis like (the coronavirus pandemic) is to continue to place those in non congregant shelter,” she said.

About 50 additional hotel rooms are expected to be made available, said Elaina Bradley, the executive director for Interfaith Hospitality Network, which provides services to the homeless.

As of Tuesday, there were 317 people, including 123 children, in emergency shelter in Clark County and 72 people on the waiting list, according to Bradley.

Towards the end of November, 146 people were in emergency shelter in Clark County and 218 were on the waiting list.

Additional hotel and motel space has allowed Interfaith to put more people in emergency shelter, causing a decrease in the number of people in the waiting list.

People transitioning to permanent housing has also freed up emergency shelter space.

Meadows said she did not have a complete count of the number of hotel and motel rooms in the county being used for emergency shelter.

Hotels and motels have replaced traditional homeless shelters that offer congregant living conditions and there has been a coordinated effort to make more rooms available.

Meadows said that is a result of ongoing dialogue between local and state government as well as nonprofits, local agencies and organizations that have worked together to address growing homelessness in the area.

She said that included demonstrating to hotels and motels the need for their rooms to be used as emergency shelter. Those conversations came at a time when the pandemic has greatly impacted the hospitality industry.

A spike in homelessness lead to the creation of a waiting list for emergency shelter services in August, something that has not happened in over 10 years.

The creation of the waiting list was attributed to the shortage of available hotel and motel rooms at the time as well as the increase need in emergency shelter caused by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The availability of non congregant emergency shelter has become more important since the pandemic has impacted traditional homeless shelters, Meadows said.

Interfaith traditionally operates two congregant living shelters in the county. One serves single men while the other serves women and children. However, those shelters have been closed since March due to safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

City officials say congregant emergency shelter spaces can increase the risk of infection and therefore the focus has instead been on non congregant shelter such as hotels or motels or spaces that offer semi-congregant options.

Other organizations have also chipped in to provide food, laundry and other services to those utilizing emergency shelter such as the Second Harvest Food Bank.

The City of Springfield allocated a total of a little more than $2 million last year as well as going into this year to Interfaith to cover emergency shelter costs. That money comes from various federal grant sources, said Meadows.

In addition, $1.4 million has been set aside for a project to convert part of a former army reserve building into semi-congregant emergency shelter.

City officials proposed last year to convert 11,000 square feet of the former Downs Army Reserve Center at 1515 W. High St., into shelter that could house as many as 50 people.

However, that project has been put on hold as more hotel and motel spaces become available.

By the numbers

317 - number of people in emergency shelter in Clark County

123 - number of children in emergency shelter in Clark County

72 - number of people on waiting list for emergency shelter services in Clark County

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