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Resources to help impoverished residents during quarantine

The Isabella County Building stands March 19 in downtown Mount Pleasant.

A homeless shelter is closed until fall and the county’s only soup kitchen is closed indefinitely, leaving a local restaurant to help fulfill the need for free meals in Isabella County. 

All because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The virus has caused disruptions across the country, especially for those who live in poverty or who are homeless. This is no different in Isabella County, where services that those families and individuals rely on closed or changed practices in response to the pandemic.

Isabella County Restoration House, a local nonprofit that provides temporary shelter for those who are homeless, and puts people on a path to self-sufficiency, closed for the season early. Executive Director Dee Obrecht said multiple concerns led to the closure of the shelter. First, the shelter is a rotating one, with the guests staying in different locations each night. The shelter could not stay in place. Second, she was worried about the shelter’s older volunteers and the fact that many of the student volunteers from Central Michigan University are no longer in Mount Pleasant.

The shelter is open for around six months each year. Obrecht said the shelter was going to close on April 20. The shelter is not currently accepting any new guests and will not open again until the fall.

Guests with the shelter were moved to a hotel after it closed, Obrecht said. There are currently 12 guests in the hotel, which includes a couple of families. The shelter is currently trying to find their guests more permanent housing before April 20 because that’s when the shelter will stop supporting them. This is because ICRH doesn't have the resources, and the shelter focuses on helping guests become self-sufficient.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t continue services for them, but I can only do so much,” Obrecht said.

For those who are homeless right now, Obrecht said they should avoid being in large groups, wash their hands where they can and make face masks out of clothing, like bandanas. She also said the local organization EightCap can help find emergency housing for short periods of time.

EightCap is a nonprofit corporation that helps people who are homeless or who are in poverty. Manager of self-sufficiency programs Christa Jerome said emergency housing is normally for one week but has been extended to 14 days. She said she is in conversations with local partners to find a larger location to create a shelter that will practice social distancing.

The organization will be receiving stimulus money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Jerome said. With this money, the organization hopes to have congregate meals in emergency shelters and help people with issues stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.

EightCap will continue to offer many of its services while its workers are remote. These include utility payment assistance, home repairs and medication pick-ups. Anyone who is homeless should call a housing hotline, (989)-754-9315 (ext. 3335), Jerome said. For other services, she said to visit EightCap's website for applications.

The Isabella Community Soup Kitchen also closed indefinitely the day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a stay-at-home order. Executive Director Sarah Adkins said the kitchen was offering take-out meals at first but closed after some of her staff’s health was in jeopardy. 

The kitchen is working with the local Salvation Army location and Max and Emily's to provide free meals to the Isabella County community. Case Manager Eileen Palmer said the Salvation Army Isabella County location has been servicing around 25 families a day since the outbreak began.

Max and Emily’s has a program called "People Helping People," which provides free lunches to those who need it. The service used to only be on Sundays but was extended to every day during the pandemic, owner Elmo Watson said. Meals are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day. Watson said around 500 meals have been served since the service was expanded.

While there may be other options for people to get free meals in Mount Pleasant, Adkins said the soup kitchen closure brings more social isolation to those who regularly visit the shelter. When the kitchen can reopen depends on the guidance of the health department.

“It’s awful feeling like there’s nothing you can do,” Adkins said. “It’s hard to sit here at home. I’m working, but we’re not open. But it’s not safe to be (open).”