BLOOMINGTON — Right next to Switchyard Park, just off of Grimes Lane is a large warehouse space that used to house a CrossFit gym. The former gym’s sign is still up at the entrance, and the walls are still painted with kettlebells and bodybuilders. But now, spread out across the floor are donated cots, pillows and a couple dog beds.
It’s a warm place to sleep for dozens who need it these days.
“What was particularly surprising was the number of street homeless folks which is usually close to 0 in the winter. To see 60 people plus sleeping outside in the middle of winter was honestly horrifying,” said Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Beacon Inc.
Beacon Inc. provides resources and housing for people experiencing homelessness. In the past few weeks the need for housing has greatly increased in the Bloomington area.
“We saw an enormous amount of people and felt a need to respond to that and this shelter is that response,” said Gilmore, “Our street outreach team went out and interviewed the people sleeping in the park and tried to find out why they weren’t moving into shelter.
That’s when Gilmore and his team learned the problem was more severe than they realized. “In doing that we found out the number of people sleeping outside was about three times as many as we thought, and that was what indicated to us that it wasn’t just people not accessing shelter, it was just we did not have enough shelter in our community to meet the need,” said Gilmore.
The new temporary shelter can house around 50 people a night. There are fewer barriers than some other area shelters. Pets are allowed and couples can sleep next to each other. Many of the people now sleeping at the temporary shelter were formerly in tents at Seminary Park. Two weeks ago, they were forced to leave that spot.
“The city’s response to that was trying to remove them, evict them from the park,” said Gilmore.
Josh Riddle and his wife Emma Bowman were two of many who had to leave. “As soon as they tore down the park downtown, all the tents and everything, we didn’t know what we were going to do and then we found out about the new shelter,” said Riddle.
The couple is grateful for the warmth of sleeping inside and glad they don’t have to split up at night. “I get to sleep next to my wife and I don’t get yelled at for giving her a hug and a kiss goodnight,” said Riddle.
Belinda Grubb was displaced from the park too. “Me and my dog have been out here for a while now and living in a tent and then they made everyone move out of their tents and stuff,” said Grubb.
It was challenging to find a shelter that allowed her dog in, but the new one does. “I think it’s worked out over there for us,” said Grubb.
The space is heated and up to fire code. It currently doesn’t have running water so volunteers brought in a hand washing station and are providing bottled water to those who stay they night. Plastic totes have been donated for people to put their bedding in when they wake up in the morning so they are not sharing with other people. Volunteers are washing the sheets and blankets as often as they can.
Gilmore says there are 340 people who are homeless in the community according to last year’s Point-in Time count of homeless people. They are conducting this year’s count this week, but the results will not be released for several weeks. Gilmore expects the number to be much higher than it was last year.
“COVID-19 has had a really significant impact. As best we can tell this is a response to COVID-19 and the challenges of that and it has had an impact on people not being able to stay in their homes,” said Gilmore.
Volunteers are still needed to keep the overnight shelter up and running. Right now, it’s open from 9 p.m.- 7 a.m. They are also in need of donations including fruit, non-perishable foods, juice and water. For more information click here.