MANSFIELD — With homelessness expected to surge after COVID-19, Harmony House will take the proper steps to helping the homeless in Richland County stay on their feet.
“There’s a lot of factors at play right now and a lot of variables that we need to manage and prepare for,” said Kelly Blankenship, executive director of the Harmony House.
Blankenship shared her concern over the people who will struggle post COVID-19 once landlords can process evictions, stating she foresees the number increasing.
“We have a very limited amount of funding to assist people with deposit and first month's rent, so we’ve been having to assist our clients in a longer time period, which doesn’t give us much resources to help the incoming clients who are coming on the other side of this,” Blankenship said.
Since late March and early April, the Harmony House have lost all Goodwill volunteers, as well as two interns. They now operate with 14 people on staff.
Replacing clients in different homes has been one area they’ve struggled with the most, according to Blankenship.
“If they do have a job right now, they’re laid off right now, and so landlords are reluctant to take our clients who are laid off because they don’t have income to pay for their rent,” she said.
Davinette Phillips, case manager at the Harmony House, works with families and single women. The epidemic has not stopped her from reaching out to new clients and accepting new ones.
As of now, due to the pandemic, she works with 11 adults and four kids.
“It’s not hard to get them housed, but it’s just hard for them to stay housed, especially if they don’t have any income,” Phillips said.
Using a scoring system called SPDAT, individuals and families must fill out a questionnaire and truthfully answer about their health situation. After tallying up the scores, Phillips plugs the information into her computer and determines whether or not that individual or family can receive assistance.
“Sometimes it depends on how they score, and then you’ll get help from different agencies. We might pay first months rent in deposit if they score from four (and up),” Phillips said.
Although there were a few cases of pneumonia and clients experiencing flu like symptoms, no clients housed inside the Harmony House have tested positive for COVID-19, however it did induce panic among other clients and staff.
“Social distancing is very difficult for us to achieve, and the only way we could sort of effectively achieve that is through deconcentrating population,” Blankenship said.
The Harmony House has nine rooms total with five currently occupied and two people assigned to each room. With a limited amount of space open due to social distancing requirements, they can only house so many clients and leave extra space aside for isolation purposes if needed.
An extensional space for the Harmony House includes a one bedroom apartment in the back of the building over top of a single car garage.
“We wanted to use that facility for isolation purposes because it would be completely separated from the rest of the population and just ideal for that situation should the need arise,” Blankenship said, however the apartment is currently occupied by a single dad with four children who can’t be moved inside the Harmony House due to the limited space available.
In terms of other potential options Blankenship has her eyes on, she hopes to use Holiday Inn Express-Conference Center and temporarily house some of their healthy clients.
“We have an agreement to use some of the rooms over there for clients who are homeless and need to come into shelter, but because we don’t have room for them (in the Harmony House) we will house them over at Holiday Inn,” Blankenship said.
Joe Poul, manager of Holiday Inn & Express Mansfield-Conference Center said they are currently assisting some area agencies, but chose not to make any further comment at this time.
Throughout the pandemic and after, the Harmony House will continue to assist as many as they can throughout their struggle.
“We still are helping people, we’re getting people housed and we do have rooms for people as long as we have available beds,” Phillips said.