BELOIT—Local aid groups are finding ways to help community in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis as homelessness and food insecurity remain two key issues for some Rock County residents.
Community Action Interim Director Marc Perry said the organization was placing a temporary quarantine order on those in the Twin Oaks shelter before accepting new families as a precaution.
Those who are situationally homeless are more at risk of coming in contact with COVID-19 due to lack of adequate sanitation and being constantly out in public after both Illinois and Wisconsin ordered restaurants and bars closed to dine-in customers, Perry said.
“Some businesses where those who are situationally homeless are closed, places like the library and so on,” Perry said. “We’ve heard from people who are hunkered down in their vehicles or encampments and staying in those spaces. We know of unaccompanied youth in our community that are staying with friends. It’s a struggle finding a safe place especially with a lot of public spaces closed and people are trying to do whatever they can.”
Community Action is still offering child care services at its Janesville location but under limited order from state guidelines released on Wednesday by Gov. Tony Evers. The main office in Beloit, 20 Eclipse Center, is closed to the public the after school and senior programs at Merrill Community Center are suspended. The Delavan administrative office, the weatherization and AWARE offices in Janesville are also closed.
“We’re trying to balance the importance of self care with the need to serve the community and we’re working with some staff to determine ways to work remotely,” Perry said.
Calls for service will transferred to on-call staff to assist residents, Perry added
The group also restarted its meal gift card program for those without food. To make a donation to Community Action, visit community-action.org/give/ways-to-give/.
“If people are up to it and are healthy, they can drop gift cards off at the office,” Perry said.
Perry said that currently around 350 residents in Rock County are situationally homeless.
There are also around 600 homeless students, of which around 120 are unaccompanied teens, according to Beloit School District Homeless Liaison Robin Stuht.
“We know we are under-identifying those populations,” Stuht said.
Stunt said as schools close, unaccompanied students risk losing the safety net offered to them by role model figures at the various schools.
“It’s not just about the academics,” Stuht said. “It’s about those positive relationships.”
In the School District of Beloit, elementary schools and Beloit Memorial High School are open from 11 to 1 p.m. offering breakfast and lunch meal packs. Over 1,200 meal packs were picked up by families on Wednesday, Stuht said.
“We are meeting needs wonderfully and we have plenty of food,” Stuht said.
At Caritas in Beloit, Executive Director Max Dodson said the pantry switched Wednesday to model almost like a “drive thru grocery store” after closing the pantry to in-person pick up. Residents can drive up and collect a pre-packed food package.
“It’s been incredibly effective and it appears we are serving as many people as we normally do,” Dodson said. “Life has changed so much in the last 10 days, but under these circumstances we are doing what we are supposed to be doing for our neighbors. We’re in a crisis situation and it’s something none of us have experienced before and we aren’t seeing a reduction in service.
The pantry is open to pick up Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
“I’ve always known we’re an essential part of the community but since Monday I have realized that we are an essential emergency service,” Dodson said. “We’re not going to stop doing what we are doing.”
To donate to Caritas, visit caritasbeloit.org/ways-to-give/ or mail a check donation to Caritas, 2840 Prairie Ave., Beloit.