LIMA — An old Head Start bus might the key to helping Lima’s homeless.
“It’s been a long time coming discovering this, but we accidentally did one night about two o’clock in the morning,” Russ Thomas, head of The Gathering Place at New Creation Evangelical Lutheran Church, said.
Thomas discovered what an old bus might be able to offer during Allen County’s complete homeless count this past January when he talked to a homeless man who didn’t desire any offered services a year before.
“When he saw me, he remembered our relationships and then he was ready to receive things. It was then I realized — we accidentally realized — that it’s about relationship building,” Thomas said.
Thomas began looking for a vehicle with the thought of a mobile office in mind. After securing some private donations, he eventually approached West Ohio Community Action Partnership’s CEO Jackie Fox with the idea, and on the same day, Thomas had himself a bus.
“We pulled some seats out, bought a microwave and a refrigerator, some totes to keep toiletries in and restored some donated cabinets,” Thomas said.
But before Thomas can be out and about, the bus may be drafted into helping the homeless — an already vulnerable group — during the coronavirus outbreak.
Fox said the new bus will probably be used to help bring homeless individuals potentially exposed to the coronavirus into a safe place for quarantine. During the coronavirus outbreak, there’s the potential that homeless individuals normally staying with friends or family may find themselves out of the house if they’re showing symptoms, and the bus would be a good tool to shuttle them to a safe place.
New funds provided to WOCAP may also be able to help reducing potential homelessness, Fox said. Due to increases in unemployment during the coronavirus outbreak, WOCAP is making additional funds available to help with rent and utility assistance.
“We are going to be able to provide additional rent assistance to stop evictions for folks that are in need, and we’re going to be able to help people that are homeless find a place to stay,” Fox said.
Utility assistance can also be found through the WOCAP-administered Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program. Under a new Ohio moratorium, utility companies aren’t allowed to disconnect service, but the energy assistance program can help get the bills paid during the difficult time.
As for the bus, Thomas may have to make a few conversions before it’s ready for its final duties, but the relationships it has the potential to create will be worth the work.
“Most of these folks that are chronic (homeless) won’t go to a Job and Family Services or WOCAP, so what we’re doing is bringing the applications to them,” Thomas said. “We take whatever time is necessary, meet them on a regular basis, bring them up on the bus and build that relationship of trust, fix them a bowl of soup or some hot dogs and sit down and do some paperwork whenever they’re ready.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.