MANSFIELD — Harmony House, a homeless shelter and homeless services provider, is on its way to serving more than 700 people this year due to a recent surge of those seeking help.
In prior years, the shelter served between 500 and 600 people, with that number dropping down to around 400 people in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly Blankenship, the executive director of Harmony House, explained that the shelter always sees a surge in the summer.
“A lot of people will help their family members and friends more willingly in cold weather,” Blankenship said. “If you put someone on the street (during winter) they could die, but if you put someone on the street in the summertime they’re not going to die, they’ll be uncomfortable, but they’re not going to die.”
The shelter is currently at maximum capacity with 57 people, leaving only one bed available.
Blankenship thinks its unlikely this surge is due to the public’s fears of COVID-19 pandemic being more manageable because of vaccine availability.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the (COVID-19) vaccine because it’s rarely even brought up here at the shelter,” Blankenship said. “It’s something we discuss with everyone upon intake.”
According to Blankenship, a possible reason for this increase in shelter visitors is the large number of families that have come to the shelter for help.
“We have a lot of families in shelter now, we also have a lot of turnover,” Blankenship said. “Once a bed becomes open it gets filled right away.”
While the recent storms, power outages and heat wave may have posed problems for many Richland County residents, the shelter was largely unaffected. Blankenship said the shelter didn’t experience many people coming into the shelter due to the storm and power outages.
Blankenship said the facility itself has significant “wear and tear” in its most-used areas due to the sheer number of people coming through its doors. The kitchen, storage room and bathrooms are areas that Blankenship is looking to make improvements to in the near future.
The number of people occupying the shelter poses its share of both emotional and logistical challenges, especially since it’s suffering from a staffing shortage. Blankenship has been talking to the Ohio Department of Development about applying for more funding and round two of the CARES act to cover the improvements to the shelter and hiring more staff.
Another challenge facing the shelter is that some occupants are suffering from addiction which can create a tense and unpredictable atmosphere in the facility.
“It’s hard for some people who are sober, who have overcome addiction, to remain sober when (addiction) is in their face on a daily basis,” Blankenship said.
When asked what members of the public could do, Blankenship rattled off a list.
“We rely on grants and donations for our funding, we could always, always, always use more cash,” Blankenship said. “Right now, we need pillows, twin-size beddings and bath linens, towels and washcloths.”