City's Emergency Warming Shelter Opens A Day Early

Oct 31, 2019

Springfield’s emergency winter shelter is set to open Thursday – one day earlier due to plunging temperatures. The building can accommodate up to 60 clients per night and has gone through some safety updates in preparation.

The building on E. Madison— right across from the Salvation Army, got a new carpet, new doors and an additional emergency exit installed. 

Juan Huerta, director of the city’s Office of Community Relations, said the safety recommendations to have a total of five exit doors came from the fire department.

“The building is secure. Every hour we have to call the fire department--the fire watch, to let them know everything is going well, there’s no issues, there’s no incidents.”

Huerta says the center has capacity for 60 people with an additional 10 clients allowed to stay in the dining room area on busier nights.

The city scrambled to get the shelter ready for winter weather after the Center for Health and Housing project fell through earlier this month. That building would have provided a one-stop shop with mental health and housing services for those experiencing homelessness.

During a City Council meeting earlier in the week, Ald. Erin Conley said she had concerns about employee training, insurance and if situations like an overdose can be handled. Huerta said the police and fire departments, Memorial Health and the Sangamon Department of Health --- would all provide a four-hour training for employees before the shelter opens.

“Four hours, for all of this?” Conley asked Huerta during an exchange that night.

“I wanted to get this clear because I’m concerned about the people in the streets at night… I want to make sure our staff and our community that’s making use of this facility to be safe,” she said.

“Over the past three years, we’ve had some issues where we had to call the police, the fire department, emergency—and those type of things,” Huerta said. But he said there would be security measure in place.

Huerta said clients will be screened at the door and things like weapons and medications will be turned over for safe keeping overnight. If a client needs his or her medication, staff would be able to help retrive those.

Huerta invited Council members to do a walk-through of the building to appease concerns. 

It is expected twelve employees from the Salvation Army will help run the facility through April 1, Huerta said.

The warming shelter will also provide dinner and breakfast for clients.

Mayor Jim Langfelder said the city has not abandoned long-term solutions to homelessness but will continue to use the building as long as it is needed.

“I always think—what about the day center? Can this be used for a day center during the summer or is there another facility? You don’t want to tear down an asset.”

Over the years, the shelter was criticized for being an inadequate building to house people overnight. And while the building does not have a sprinkler system, employees are instructed to do a walk-thru every hour and check-in with the fire department.

Huerta said donations -- like food, money and clothes are accepted.