Officials looking to convert part of former Springfield army reserve building into emergency shelter

The old Downs U.S. Army Reserve Center in Springfield. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
The old Downs U.S. Army Reserve Center in Springfield. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The City of Springfield is looking to convert part of a former army reserve building into emergency shelter as the need for those services have increased dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic.

City officials are proposing 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.

The building has been in the city’s possession for a number of years. If the project moves forward, the building will still be under city ownership. The emergency shelter there would be managed by Interfaith Hospitality Network, which provides services to the homeless.

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The move follows a spike over the summer in the number of people in Clark County in need of emergency shelter. The increase has created a backlog for those services and a waiting list was created, something that has not been utilized in the county for more than 10 years.

Interfaith 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.

Prior to the pandemic, the normal capacity between the two shelters, was an average of 70 people.

Shannon Meadows, the community development director for the City of Springfield, said this week that 146 people are in emergency shelter in Clark County, including 28 families with 54 children. The wait list as of Thursday was 218 people, including 76 families with 96 children.

Alternative forms of emergency shelter, such as hotel and motel rooms, have been used instead throughout the pandemic. But as winter approaches and the waiting list for services continue, local officials feel more non-congregant emergency shelter options are needed.

“It is the working family that has become the norm in needing emergency shelter,” said Meadows, echoing what she has heard from Interfaith’s director Elaina Bradley.

“We are also talking about families that have small or school age children,” Meadows said.

She said since March, the rate of homelessness in the county has gone up by 350% and for families that rate has seen an increase of 750%.

Last November, 55 single adults were utilizing emergency shelter in the county, with two to four families also using those services.

The average stay of people in emergency shelter has also increased during the pandemic. That average is between 75 to 80 days, compared to an average stay of 28 to 39 days before the pandemic, Bradley said in October.

Meadows said there are not enough available housing units to transition people from emergency shelter to more permanent options.

Springfield commissioners passed two emergency ordinances Tuesday increasing grant funding allocations to Interfaith.

The first ordinance authorized the city manager to enter into an amendment to an agreement with Interfaith to increase emergency solutions grant allocations in the amount of $27,000, for a total contract amount not to exceed $162,590.

The second ordinance authorized the city manager to enter into an amendment that would increase Interfaith’s allocation from the Emergency Solutions Grant COVID-19 Relief Funding in the amount of $95,098, for a total contract amount not to exceed $560,655.

The coronavirus pandemic has had an immediate economic impact. A statewide stay-at-home order enacted in March called for the temporary closing of businesses that were deemed nonessential. Ohio began reopening portions of its economy starting in May and businesses that were once deemed non-essential were allowed to reopen.

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Companies that have remained open during the entire period have also had to tweak their operations.

But there are individuals and families that are still dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic, Meadows said.

Some residents have lost their jobs, while others had their hours cut. There were also delays in getting unemployment benefits as the state saw a record amount of people applying between March and April.

Meadows said that the former army reserve building will be able to offer space for families in need of shelter as well as allow for social distancing.

Meadows said that space would be for those who cannot find lodging elsewhere and the focus would be on families. She said there would be a very limited number of beds for single adults needing those services.

Meadows said the city is looking at securing funding for the project and is looking at a number of sources in order to convert parts of the building into safe and functional shelter. Other parts of the building will continue to be used by the city for safety service training.

Clark County officials authorized $275,000 in federal relief money Wednesday to go towards the project.

Meadows said that starting the conversion process as soon as possible is important given that winter is approaching. She added that “the need is so much greater than what is normally seen this time of year.”

The goal is to have the shelter available by the first quarter of 2021, Meadows added.

By the Numbers:

146 - number of people in Clark County in emergency shelter

218 - number of people in Clark County on a waiting list for emergency shelter

150 - number of children in Clark County either in emergency shelter or on a waiting list for those services

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