Open Door Mission (ODM) is serving through the current health crisis, mobilizing to care for the less fortunate – the homeless and the hungry – by doing more than ever.
Currently, with the campus at 2828 E. 23rd St. closed to community partners and almost all volunteers, 70 full-time staff members are carrying most of the load.
“Open Door Mission has to stay focused on meeting the basic needs of individuals and families while inspiring hope for lasting change,” says Candace Gregory, president and CEO. “I could not be prouder of our team.”
She and 75% of the administration and development staff are taking on additional tasks to support the shelter’s work on the front lines. Gregory is spending almost all of her time helping with children and youth programming.
“The number of children joining the programs is growing every day as families lose their daycare,” she says.
In response, ODM has set up activity stations for almost 130 infant, toddler and school-age children experiencing homelessness. Children rotate through the stations four at a time.
Outreach isn’t confined to the campus. Even without volunteer assistance, ODM has been focused on meeting essential community needs with COVID-19 drive-through relief events. Over the course of two Saturdays – March 28 and April 18 – 30 staff members shouldered the typical work of 900 volunteers loading food, toiletries and diapers into more than 9,735 vehicles.
“People waited for 1 to 2½ hours. The line went off campus, down Locust Street, onto Abbott Drive to TD Ameritrade Park, and nobody complained,” Gregory says.
Inside its facilities, staff is working hard to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization, state and county COVID-19 guidelines. Precautions include frequent disinfecting of all public surfaces; a shelter-in-place protocol for all guests; and the proactive set-up of COVID-19 quarantine, isolation and waiting rooms, Gregory says.
ODM has banned travel for the staff and closed the campus to all but medical volunteers.
“Usually, more than 40 programs are offered for free to our communities, but we are only focusing on safe shelter with quality care, drive-through homeless prevention, and our recovery program at this time,” Gregory says.
ODM offers 917 safe shelter beds to those experiencing homelessness. It is currently accommodating overflow at the Lydia House, its shelter for women and families, using mats on the floor.
As ODM continues working to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty during the pandemic – supported, in part, with funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska – it is also easing the burden on area hospitals through its Free Health and Healing Clinic.
“Our team is diverting people from the emergency rooms on a daily basis, seeing over 300 people experiencing homelessness in our Free Health and Healing Clinic each week,” Gregory says.
With its staff stretched and its budget tight – ODM is buying medical supplies for its clinic “as fast as they become available each day” – the public is being asked to donate money to help fill ODM’s urgent needs and volunteer from home via OpenDoorMission.org.
“Although it has been overwhelming to say the least, it’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love and care from the community for those experiencing homelessness during these unprecedented times,” Gregory says.
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, celebrating people living their best lives and inspiring others to do the same.