The pandemic has pressed all of us to reexamine and change our usual ways of being in the world. Certainly, there have been many firsts for us at our emergency shelter. Remaining open 24/7, moving operations to a hotel, reducing our capacity so guests could continue to have the privacy and security of their own room when we returned to our shelter facility – these are all things that felt impossible or at least impractical just 18 months ago. Yet now, we’ve learned that they are not only necessary during a pandemic but also a better, more dignified way of providing shelter. We’ve said it before, and we say it now: We can’t go back to the old normal. So we’re not.
Last spring, the OSCS management team and board of directors began discussing how to take what we have learned and move forward. In June, they made a strategic decision to transition our emergency shelter to a medical-respite model. This means we will specialize in providing shelter, on-site healthcare staff, and other supportive services to homeless adults who are being released from the hospital with a medical need that makes them too vulnerable to recover on the street or in a traditional shelter.
This change will allow us to make the best use of our unique shelter facility, which was originally designed as a medical clinic, as well as our location near two major hospitals. More importantly, it will allow us to address a critical gap in homeless services – a need the pandemic has made painfully apparent – to support medically vulnerable, homeless adults when they are released from the hospital.
One Size Does Not Fit All
We recognize that one size does not fit all. Currently, many individuals with significant medical needs either stay at shelters without the resources or capacity to appropriately serve them or are denied access altogether. As a shelter, we’ve seen this need increase over the years. Now, we will be able to serve such vulnerable guests with expertise. Shelter manager, La’Quadra Neal, explains, “I do think this is a good direction for shelters to have a specialty. There was a big push to just add any and everybody into shelter, but I think by having a specialty, it helps us in case management with identifying the needs of people.” Additionally, unlike some medical respite shelters, we will still maintain a focus on finding permanent housing.
“I do think this is a good direction for shelters to have a specialty. There was a big push to just add any and everybody into shelter, but I think by having a specialty, it helps us in case management with identifying the needs of people.”
If the past 18 months have taught us anything, it’s the importance of health and home. We intend to make the transition to medical respite by the end of the year. So stay tuned!