St. Vincent plans $8M expansion to combat homelessness during COVID-19

St. Vincent de Paul’s homeless shelters in Dayton have lost about one-third of their capacity due to the coronavirus epidemic, but the nonprofit plans to spend about $8 million to add beds and create new space, partly to help with social distancing and cleaning.

The expansion and renovation projects, which will be paid for primarily by federal CARES Act coronavirus economic relief dollars, will replace dozens of beds removed to put more distance between sleeping spaces .

St. Vincent de Paul’s emergency shelters in Dayton have about 20% fewer clients than they did at this time last year, officials say.

However, some leaders believe demand could increase because of the struggling economy and widespread unemployment, and autumn is just weeks away, which tends to be the shelters' busiest season.

The new projects hopefully will ensure that anyone who needs emergency shelter in Montgomery County can get it, officials say.

“This (crisis) is giving more attention to the challenges of being homeless than any other event probably could,” said Michael Vanderburgh, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Society, District Council of Dayton, Ohio, Inc. “There has been focused attention on congregate settings like homeless shelters and making them safer places to be.”

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St. Vincent de Paul operates a pair of around-the-clock emergency homeless shelters in Dayton. One, on Apple Street, serves single women with children and men with spouses and families. The other, at 1921 S. Gettysburg Ave., serves single men.

Both shelters provide meals, clothing, personal care items, mail and messaging services, and case management support to help clients search for housing or other needs.

The men’s shelter has about 214 beds right now. The women and family facility has about 194.

Normally, they can hold together up to about 600 beds total.

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More than 4,760 people were homeless and accessed emergency shelter services in Montgomery County in 2019, officials say, and the vast majority were served by St. Vincent.

The nonprofit’s facilities have reduced capacity to help homeless individuals socially distance, which has been a challenge across the country because emergency shelters often have close living quarters. The men’s shelter, for instance, is a former prison facility that was not designed for social separation.

But St. Vincent de Paul plans to spend about $3.1 million to construct a new daytime facility attached to the men’s shelter.

The new 15,000-square-foot building will have a large open space, with furniture, tables and chairs,. That will give staff the opportunity to clean the men’s night-time space to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and other infectious diseases, Vanderburgh said.

The men’s shelter right now has about 47,750 square feet of space mainly for dorms, but it also contains some space for day activities and offices.

Additionally, St. Vincent plans to renovate 4,500 square feet of the Apple Street facility to make room for more beds. The facility’s former kitchen, pantry and laundry spaces will permanently relocate to the Jobs Center property, which St. Vincent de Paul owns. Those spaces will be converted into sleeping areas.

That renovation project is expected to cost about $1.5 million. The shelter is about 40,000 square feet.

Renovating the Jobs Center to accommodate the shelter’s new kitchen, pantry and laundry services is expected to cost about $1.2 million.

St. Vincent’s projects are expected to get underway this week or next and be completed by mid-December. The Apple Street facility could add between 50 to 70 beds.

“These projects are about keeping our most vulnerable homeless safe,” Vanderburgh said. “These are our neighbors in Montgomery County who have experienced homelessness in the middle of the pandemic.”

He added, “We are coming together, both our private and public partners, to create the safest space we can for them."

St. Vincent has had a handful of staff and guests test positive for COVID-19, but there have been no real outbreaks, Vanderburgh said.

Recently, about 177 people were staying at the men’s shelter and 95 were at the Apple Street facility. Also, there are about 62 homeless people staying in local motel rooms paid for by St. Vincent de Paul.

Montgomery County and private donors have helped pay for unexpected COVID-19 costs, including the hotel and motel bills, officials say.

But some of the measures that have helped prevent people from losing their housing eventually will go away, Vanderburgh said.

Evictions have been postponedbut not cancelled, he said, and utility shut-offs likely will resume or pick up soon.

Some federal financial support that was approved to help during the pandemic has ended, including $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program.

Millions of unemployed Americans keep falling deeper into debt as the amount of back rent they owe grows each month, said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans are on the brink of eviction and homelessness, according to some research groups .

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