Every year for the past 15 year, Nov. 1 has marked the opening of the six-month shelter season at St. John’s. This year, however feels quite different. For the first time in our organization’s history, Nov. 1st was the opening night of not just one but two shelters, and we did this during, and in response to, a global pandemic.

As the emergency shelter of last resort, St. John’s has never turned anyone away due to capacity. In the harsh winters of Green Bay, when the temps are far too often in single or even negative digits, we have always met the need of our homeless brothers and sisters when our building’s capacity of 84 was exceeded by operating off-site overflow locations. Knowing that we needed to continue to meet the full need, as we have always done, we began planning in the summer months for what the shelter season would look like.

We quickly realized that in order to follow CDC guidelines for shelters and congregate living facilities, we would need to cut the capacity of St. John’s Shelter so significantly that 61% of our homeless brothers and sisters would be without a place to be. This was not an option. We began looking for a second shelter site that would provide ample space for guests while also following safety restrictions with masks, social distancing and sanitation. After much vetting, Bay Lake City Center was selected, and everything came together, with support from Spring Lake Church right downstairs and shower support from our neighbors at the YMCA.

On Nov. 1, 2020, St. John’s opened two shelters, both operating 24/7. Our St. John’s Shelter has become an all-women’s shelter that allows the ladies to be socially distanced and safe. It also now temporarily houses Wellspring, our daytime resource center for women, for the duration of this shelter season. The second shelter site at Bay Lake City Center is home to our male guests with Micah Center serving them for daytime programming as well as some on-site programming. At BLCC, men are separated into “pods,” with separate sleeping, dining and bathroom areas, so that they are exposed to smaller groups of people, limiting risk of spread if COVID were to occur.

We have a robust COVID response plan. Some basics are that all guests receive COVID tests as they enter shelter. Guest must also wear masks at all times, surfaces are sanitized throughout the day, and certain high-traffic surfaces after every use. We encourage social distancing with furniture and sleeping spaces all six feet apart.

As we took a leap of faith to open two shelters for this season, Nov. 1 to April 30, we did so knowing we’d need your support. Right now we need help in every shape and size…

  • We need supporters and grants to continue to fund the BLCC shelter site that includes building and staffing costs that were unanticipated.
  • We need volunteers to help fill support shifts, process donations, make meals and more!
  • We need part-time seasonal staff to help make both shelters run. We are currently under-staffed with full-time staff is stepping into roles that take us away from our primary jobs, working more hours than we normally do. We need to fill overnight security, 5-9 a.m. support staff, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the day at Bay Lake and at the women’s shelter 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, Sat/Sun. 

One silver lining is that we have more guest interns than ever who help fill support staff roles. These are positions filled by guests who are not just leaders in our shelter, but who have risen to become leaders throughout St. John’s response to COVID began in March.  They are helping with coordinating showers, relief work for staff, and so much more! In general, all guests are being asked to help more than previously with chores, meal serving and other leadership roles for guests within the shelter.

Please consider how you might help with our efforts this winter. Support at all levels is appreciated, welcomed and needed. Be are in this together, because we are all St. John’s!