500 Consecutive Days: An Incredible Run for Shelter

Tim Necas, Team CCO

Most people would never consider running 500 days straight through snow, heat, rain, and a global pandemic but Tim Necas is not most people. Tim’s desire to break a former running streak of 35 days in a row gradually turned into a personal mission to run 500 consecutive days. He did it while raising funds for those experiencing homelessness at CCO.

On June 10, 2020, Tim committed to running a minimum of 5 kilometers per day, for 40 consecutive days. That commitment lengthened to 80 days, then 100 days. On Day 250, February 7, 2021, the temperature dropped to -4 degrees Fahrenheit but Tim persisted.

As time marched on, so did Tim. He set a goal to run 333 consecutive days and when he had achieved that, he decided to go for the one-year mark. A few weeks later, Tim met that goal and committed to running for 400 days. He hit that target as well. On October 15, 2021, Tim finally crossed the finish line of this stunning journey. He had run 500 days straight and he did it for CCO shelter guests!

So far, Tim has raised over $1000. If you would like to show your support for CCO while recognizing Tim’s astounding commitment to those experiencing homelessness, please visit his gofundme page. Tim has also used his gofundme page to chronicle his running diary. If you’d like more details about his 500-day journey you will find it there. Are you curious about Team CCO and how you can run for shelter? Visit the Team CCO page for more information.

Thank you, Tim, and all who have shown support for his incredible run!

500 Consecutive Days: An Exceptional Run for Shelter!

Featured

Tim Necas, Team CCO

Most people would never consider running 500 days straight through snow, heat, rain, and a global pandemic but Tim Necas is not most people. Tim’s desire to break a former running streak of 35 days in a row gradually turned into a personal mission to run 500 consecutive days. He did it while raising funds for those experiencing homelessness at CCO.

On June 10, 2020, Tim committed to running a minimum of 5 kilometers per day, for 40 consecutive days. That commitment lengthened to 80 days, then 100 days. On Day 250, February 7, 2021, the temperature dropped to -4 degrees Fahrenheit but Tim persisted.

As time marched on, so did Tim. He set a goal to run 333 consecutive days and when he had achieved that, he decided to go for the one-year mark. A few weeks later, Tim met that goal and committed to running for 400 days. He hit that target as well. On October 15, 2021, Tim finally crossed the finish line of this stunning journey. He had run 500 days straight and he did it for CCO shelter guests!

So far, Tim has raised over $1000. If you would like to show your support for CCO while recognizing Tim’s astounding commitment to those experiencing homelessness, please visit his gofundme page. Tim has also used his gofundme page to chronicle his running diary. If you’d like more details about his 500-day journey you will find it there. Are you curious about Team CCO and how you can run for shelter? Visit the Team CCO page for more information.

Thank you, Tim, and all who have shown support for his incredible run!

A Letter to Shelter Providers

Please visit your state or city Health Department website for information.

This letter is NOT meant to replace any CDC or Health Department information.

Dear Shelter Provider,

Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to offer you something that may help you protect your population. I am specifically thinking of shelters located in cities and states that have no plan in place yet. We’ve got to do everything we can for our shelter guests and staff. I believe you want to do that. Think of this as a questionnaire to establish your own plan and response rather than a set directive.

If you are working at a shelter you, your staff, and your shelter guests are on the front lines. Please consider this brief letter as a tool to think about your facility and your population during the COVID-19 crisis. We have taken drastic steps and I know you will to.

You may feel overwhelmed. I know I do. I am not a medical professional or expert but I have worked at a large homeless shelter in Chicago for over 30 years. Cornerstone Community Outreach has 4 shelter programs (families and singles) totally 330 people, a food pantry, free clothing store and many other services. Many shelters and service organizations are having to make hard decisions, scramble for resources, and implement changes in a time of crisis. Literally everything has changed in the last few weeks as we have tried to respond moment by moment in this crisis. You’re shelter facility and programs are different than mine. In light of that, it is important that you use CDC and Health Department recommendations and implement them for your own setting. I hope the questions and comments below help you in this difficult time.

Response to COVID-19 Symptoms-
Call your local Health Department and ask them what your process should be for someone who is living in a homeless shelter and displaying symptoms of COVID-19. If you are told to just send a shelter guest to the ER be sure that you call ahead so that the ER knows someone is coming who has symptoms. *It is very important that you let them know that the person arriving lives in a homeless shelter with many other people. This is so critical. Require discharge papers when the client is released with a negative test. If they have a positive test demand hospital quarantine. Absolutely demand hospital quarantine.
Make sure your staff are constantly surveying your population for symptoms and reporting to you. Cities and states are responding differently at this point so I don’t want to tell you our system in Chicago and you find that it is useless in your city. Research what you should do now and let your staff know so everyone going through the proper process.
If someone is having difficulty breathing call 911 immediately.

Three Critical Components-
Handwashing, Distancing and Disinfecting

Handwashing
Print and post handwashing guides in all your bathrooms. You can find them on the CDC or Health Department website. Repost them as needed. Remind staff and shelter guests frequently. Post additional signs telling everyone (staff, shelter guest, adult, child) to wash their hands before and after entering the program space, and other critical times such as meals and after using the bathroom facilities. Most of our shelters have common bathrooms which makes combating this virus an even greater challenge.

Disinfecting
Immediately establish protocol for increased disinfecting. Do you have janitorial staff or a maintenance team or person? Do you have the right products? If your supplies need to be mixed with water, are they being mixed with the correct ratio? If you have multiple janitors how can you stagger their schedules to allow for early/ late/ weekend/ disinfecting coverage? Who else can disinfect? Recruit them. Supply them. Think outside the box.

Make sure whoever is disinfecting wears a mask and gloves while they do the work.

If you have to, create a checklist of everything that needs to be disinfected and the frequency of disinfection. For example, all door push bars, doorknobs, light switches, faucets, toilets, surfaces, touch pads, all phone services, all computer keyboards, tables, chairs, stairway railings, basically every single thing a hand can touch. Make this into a checklist with set times and places include a date and initials for the person doing the work. Establish a place where these checklists are turned in. Ensure the work is getting done.

Distancing
Many of us provide shelter in open dorms with shared bathrooms and meals. We have to use all our creativity and resources to make people as safe as possible in this sort of setting. Post signs about distancing and remind everyone of its importance. The CDC states that 6 feet should be a minimum for social distancing. Do you have that kind of space? Can you request that some shelter guests move to another location which would allow for adequate space? Can your city officials or clergy help you access a vacant space that can be used temporarily for this purpose?

Single Open Dorm Shelter Space
How close are your shelter beds? Can they be moved 6 feet apart? Do you have a common area that beds can be spread out into? Can you ensure you still have a walkway for staff, fire safety, or health care professionals to get through? Can you put elderly and aging single shelter guests (60+) in an area that is further from your younger population while still allowing everyone to have beds 6 feet from each other? Can you do the same for medically vulnerable people who are under the age of 60? Do you have bunks? Can you make sure no one is on the top bunk? In a single shelter program, as much as you are able, stop having a person on the top bunk unless they are related. An individual should have a single bed or lower bunk that is at least 6 feet from the next bed. I know this is extremely challenging for many of our programs. The Health Department states that shelter guests should sleep head – to- toe.

Family Open Dorm Shelter Space
How close are your shelter beds? Do you have bunks? Do you have a common area that beds can be spread out into? Can you ensure you still have a walkway for staff, fire safety, or health care professionals to get through?
If necessary, nuclear families should have beds closer to one another while leaving a minimum of 6 feet between beds that are occupied by other families. If you cannot create 6 feet of space between beds, can you reach out to your city officials or clergy and ask for part of your population to be moved to a safe space were social distancing can take place? This feels drastic but remember it is not permanent. Work toward distancing. It’s critical.

Create a COVID-19 Response Team-
You will need a team. Be thoughtful. Who’s dedicated? Who are your action people? It’s important that you don’t feel alone or hesitate in implementing important next steps. You know your organization and your unique configuration. You may need more or less people on your team depending on your size. Create a team that works.

Who knows the shelter inside and out and will act? Shelter Team Coordinator
Who will tell everyone what needs to happen now? Internal Communications Coordinator
Who communicates with your city funders and coordinators? City Communication Coordinator
Who has your budget and manages your money? Financial Coordinator
Who is over the kitchen? Kitchen Disinfecting Coordinator
Who is your supplies person? Supply Coordinator
Who is over facilities/ janitorial team? Facilities/ Disinfecting Coordinator
Who is over shelter for singles? Single Shelter Coordinator
Who is over shelter for families? Family Shelter Coordinator

Communication-
How will your team communicate with each other and distribute information to your larger organization? Immediate information may need to go out via individual or group text. Use what works. Text, Google Chat, Slack, use tech options to speed communication and reduce human contact. Use a platform that works for you.

Immediately stop –
Guests
Visitors
Volunteers (I know that’s a tough one)
Donations of clothing and household items
Allow only police, medical staff, government employees dealing with child safety, your essential employees and shelter guests into your facilities.
Notify security personnel and reception staff. Post signs on your doors explaining that this is a temporary measure to protect the health of everyone.

Survey your staff-
Who is older? Who is medically vulnerable? Who is non-essential? Who can work from home? Give them the supplies to do that and send them home.
Think ahead. Who will you lose if bus and train service is stopped? Who will continue working? What roles can you reduce in order to fulfill other essential roles. For example, can one of your case managers work in the kitchen? Or in another shelter program that may be short staffed for the moment?
Tell your staff that they must stay home if they are sick. We are all afraid of having no staff but being responsible to send home sick staff is crucial to reducing illness.
Make sure that your employees have a letter of verification so that if they are stopped by law enforcement they can prove that they are an essential worker.

Meals/ Facilities –
Do your shelter guests eat in a shared dining room? Can you spread out the tables? How can you creatively make as much distance as possible in the space you have with the population you serve?
If you have several programs, eat in shifts.
Example,

  1. Disinfect all doors, tray racks, tray slides, sneeze guards, tables, chairs, and serving surfaces. 2. Allow one program in, allow them to eat.
  2. Have them return to their living area.
  3. Disinfect all doors, tray racks, tray slides, sneeze guards, tables, chairs, and serving surfaces. 5. Allow one program in, allow them to eat.
  4. Have them return to their living area.
  5. Disinfect all doors, tray racks, tray slides, sneeze guards, tables, chairs, and serving surfaces.
    You get the idea.
    Do you have individual rooms for your shelter guests? Thank God and make sure all meals are eaten in their rooms. Don’t think about the roaches or other non-deadly issues. Think about your clients and staff who are medically fragile.

Meals/ Service –
I suggest that each of your kitchen staff wear a disposable plastic apron, gloves, and a face masks At All Times in the kitchen. That includes meal preparation. This is critical. If you don’t have all of these items. Do the most that you can with what you have. Make sure your protocol is being followed even when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. The world has changed and we are changing with it.
All condiments, drinks, and cutlery are put on the tray.
No boxes of ketchup or bins of salt packets are left out for people to paw through. No.
Shelter guests pick up trays from the tray line. Hands do not touch.

Security-
Do you have a security guard or team? How can you enlist them? Can they be part of the disinfecting team for all outside doors and reception desks? Can they remind people to social distance? What unique need do you have that they may be able to help with while operations are at a minimum and visits, volunteers are eliminated?

Food pantry-
Immediately stop personal shopping and eliminate entry into your facilities.
Make up nutritious bags of groceries and distribute outside. Do not allow people in line to stand close to each other unless they are members of one household. Services continue, people are fed, everyone is safer.

Within shelter programs-
Immediately put signs at the entrances to all your program doors that EVERYONE (Staff, shelter guests, children, adults) must wash hands when they enter or exit the program. No exceptions. If you are blessed with hand sanitizer then set-up a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to the program. Make it mandatory.

Bathrooms-
Disinfecting must be extensive and on-going. First, who is cleaning the bathrooms, how often and with what supplies? What will work for your facility and population? How many sinks do you have? How many toilets? Do you have CDC, COVID-19 and proper hand washing signage in your bathrooms and in all areas of your facility? If not, do that immediately and make extra copies to replenish when they fall down.

Laundry service/ facilities-
Can you increase laundry service? If you have washers in your facility, lengthen laundry times. Think creatively so that your shelter guests can do laundry frequently.

Donors-
Donations that will help you during this global pandemic are critical but do not accept unsealed, non-essential items.
Can they supply you with hand sanitizer, soap, gloves, masks, tissue, toilet paper, etc.? Do they know restaurant suppliers? Do they have contacts that you haven’t tapped into? Can they do that work for you since they may be at home and you are not.

Case management-
Casework is difficult when the agencies you work with are closed. What can your case managers achieve in this crisis? Can they help in some of the areas we’ve already discussed? Can a healthy case manager be trained to do some other task at this time?
Case managers can join the disinfecting efforts, encourage shelter guests, de-escalate heightened emotions, etc.

Medical Consultant-
Do you have access to an educated, informed medical consultant? Can you contact them at any time of the day or night?

Mental Health Professional-
Do you have a mental health professional that can speak with your shelter guests? Ideally this would be someone who could speak on the phone with them.

I understand how troubling this time is for shelter providers. I hope this letter helps you in some way. We’re all human and we’re all afraid. We can do our best as we work alongside our shelter guests who don’t have the luxury to “stay at home.”

I am praying daily for your homeless shelter staff and guests. You aren’t alone.

Blessings,

Beth Nicholls,
Program Director,
Cornerstone Community Outreach
Chicago, Il

A few helpful links-

Illinois Department of Public Health Guidance for Homeless Shelters
http://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-a-z-list/coronavirus/preventing-spread-communities/homeless-shelters

Center for Disease Control Recommendations for Homeless Shelters
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/homeless-shelters/plan-prepare-respond.html

Printable Posters
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html

If You Only Knew

 

This summer a beautiful mural was created at Cornerstone Community Outreach. It is called “If You Only Knew”, by Steven Teller. #MostBeautifulMuralInChicago

The empowered female figure is an emblem of hope, resilience, and natural elegance. Hardy Blue Asters which surround the young woman, are a symbol of strength. The image is intended to bring hope and inspiration to the families and single adults who are moving to safe, stable housing through Cornerstone Community Outreach.

The Hannah House program that it is painted on, provides safe shelter 55 women and children and has been operating successfully since 1989, enabling hundreds of families to move from homelessness to stable housing.

As we are nearing the end of 2019, we ask that you consider making a substantial donation to help this amazing work continue. The program is funded in part by the City of Chicago, however we need supporters like you to complete the success. Click below to see the donate today, several levels are available too!

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!!!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

The 2018 holiday season at CCO has been filled with fun events, festive food, parties, and gifts for all of our shelter guests. We want to say a special thank you to the donors that have made the season bright by donating financially, creating an event, volunteering or purchasing gifts that have blessed our shelter guests. The children, parents, and single adults, sheltered at CCO have felt encouraged and remembered this year! 

As you celebrate the holidays this year please remember those experiencing homelessness and consider making a year-end donation. Your gift is 100% tax deductible and you will have the knowledge that you are a part of making the holidays and every day brighter for our shelter guests.

CCO staff, volunteers, and residents would like to say a huge Thank You to each one of our generous Christmas donors, volunteers, and supporters! 

Remembered and Cared For…

 

Thank you to all the Christmas elves who worked day and night gathering, sorting, wrapping, and organizing donated toys so that everyone at Cornerstone felt remembered and cared for this Christmas. Thank you to all the staff, volunteers, and CCO Board Members who helped make everything come together for the families and nearly 150 children sheltered at CCO.

It’s not too late to give! Please consider making a donation that will provide safe shelter, nutritious meals, and individualized supportive services to the families and singles sheltered at Cornerstone.

Outpouring of Generosity

A tiny segment of one Cornerstone Christmas list…

We are so grateful for each of our Christmas donors. We have had an outpouring of generosity this Christmas. Thank you to everyone who has purchased new toys or made a financial donation toward Christmas gifts and parties for our shelter guests.

We all experience the holidays but your generosity ensures that our shelter guests feel remembered, cared for and appreciated this Christmas. Thanks for thinking of others this holiday season!

If you haven’t made a donation toward this Christmas feel free to visit our Donation Page by clicking here. Once there, be sure to choose “Christmas” in the designation box. If you would like to donate toward fulfilling the day-to-day mission of CCO by providing shelter then choose “where most needed.”

Thank you!

CCO Christmas of Yesteryear

The “No Room at the Inn” sign does not hang here.

This CCO narrative by Sandra Ramsey first appeared in the December 2011 Newsletter.

Our holiday season opens with a homeless man appearing in our lobby whose appearance greatly resembles that of Santa Claus. He disappears before we can figure out how to help him. Is even Santa Claus falling on hard times?

The weather outside is frightful. It is erratic and severe, causing Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) to go into emergency response mode. This means that even though our bed spaces are full, we will continue to take anyone in from the cold and find a place inside for them. The “No Room at the Inn” sign does not hang here.

Back and forth on Clifton, staff and residents alike make their way between our two buildings. No one really dashes through the snow. It’s more like plod, slosh, and stumble as the wind whips us along.

The first-holiday dinner is served by one of CCO’s faithful volunteer groups. Turkey and all the trimmings are eaten, and gifts passed out. There is a Christmas concert in our dining room … beautiful music to soothe and encourage. Although visions of sugar plums probably don’t dance in the heads of the homeless, our residents begin to see that they, too, can celebrate this holiday season.

Over the past couple of nights a total of three men come out of nowhere into our warming center … are these the wise men following a star to find shelter?

Because of the weather, our aging drain pipes decide to give out in our dining room, where we serve food to hundreds of people every day. Flood water threatens our kitchen and quick plans are made with our long-suffering plumbers. Jackhammering of the dining room floor begins merely days before Christmas. The giant fake Christmas tree, middle lights out, garland askew, stands watch over the men as they work.

Meanwhile, our team of elves is sorting and tagging, wrapping and bagging hundreds of toys and gifts. Will there be enough for everyone? Will the bad economy take its toll? Will our many faithful contributors and volunteers understandably hold back this year? Not here, not with our friends.

I take a few minutes to talk to a man and woman who have been sleeping on the loading dock behind the Aragon Theater. For some people there is never room at the inn. I tell them to send word to the others living on the dock to come in from the cold. We will make a space for them.

Another Christmas concert is played right on top of the plywood that covers the drain pipes in the dining room. This one features a wide range of musical acts. Our residents are treated to everything from step-dancing and blues to traditional Christmas carols. And where else could you see a Goth band perform “The Werewolf’s Christmas”? Some dance, some clap, and all eat Christmas cookies. It is a time of relaxing and rejoicing while yet another snowstorm swirls about outside.

A Christmas wreath arrives from a local agency. Two hours earlier they held a memorial service to honor the homeless who died in the last year. We display the wreath for a few days, contemplating the sadness that it represents. Then it ends up in the home of one of our former homeless friends, where it reclaims its original purpose of promoting holiday cheer.

A couple comes bearing beautiful handmade Raggedy Ann dolls for gifts. A woman donates money in gratitude for finally finding her lost sister in our single women’s program. Toys for Tots pulls up with bags bulging full of toys. Our team of elves bustles around handing gifts out to everyone. Exclamations of delight and amazement ring in our ears.

Meanwhile, back outside, we all continue to stumble over the snow which has now hardened into deep, icy ruts. A white Christmas is not all it’s cracked up to be. It becomes even more difficult for all to navigate back and forth between our buildings. We are on a side street and will be the last to get plowed. Not to worry, I get lessons from my less-fortunate brothers and sisters, who take this weather in stride and continue to cheerfully haul supplies back and forth, taking out the garbage, holding doors and helping little kids and elderly wade through the snow and ice. Images of Whoville come to my mind. They live the struggle of life every day and I am thankful that even on this tucked-away, snow-choked street, the holiday season has arrived for the homeless.

Another festive feast and then another. At the height of the severest weather a group comes through the frigid air and swirling snow to prepare and serve their traditional meal of Italian beef. I am profoundly humbled and thankful that these volunteers, who could easily call off their visit, choose to plow through and arrive with the determination of the Comcast man. And everyone enjoys another wonderful holiday meal. At the end of this night, when all is bitterly cold, what appears in my sight is not eight tiny reindeer but eight little children with Mom and Dad, being dropped off by the Chicago Department of Human Services van. Somehow their plans to be in Texas for Christmas are thwarted and they will spend Christmas with us. Not missing a beat, the elves make up bags of presents for them, drawing again from the generous donations of so many people.

Johnny, a former client in a wheelchair, is on the phone to us. He, too, slept on the loading dock before coming to CCO. Deteriorating health sent him to the hospital, but he recovered enough to be able to stay in a nursing home. Not to be overlooked at Christmas, Johnny is now calling us to please deliver “snacks” to him. Again from our plentiful donations, my husband loads up snacks and extra clothing for Johnny and a couple of other folks we know in the home. Next, some volunteers let us know that a shelter on the other side of the city is short on food. Back in the van, my husband drops off surplus food to them, because we can.

Another family arrives on our doorstep from the Department of Human Services. We take them in and help them get settled. Their teenage son suffers from autism, and the changes going on around him are very difficult for him to handle. We get word that they have a dog that helps the boy to settle. Can we house the homeless dog too? Without losing a beat the answer is, “Yes, we can.”

T’was the night before Christmas and last minute details are being worked out. Many are still stirring and someone points out an elderly man sitting alone in our lobby. Putting my innkeeper hat on again, I walk over to him and as he sits and we talk. To say that he reminds me of the peaceful Babe in the manger is really a stretch of the Christmas analogy. But completely helpless like a child is this man in utter desperation, hanging onto the walker in front of him. How long has he been here? How did he get here? Who has sent him and what can we do for him? Hardly able to talk due to pain, he states that he lives on the streets. He just wants to go to Cook County Hospital where he can get his ankle fixed and find a chair to sleep in. He fell an hour earlier out in the snow and broke his ankle. A bone was protruding and he is bleeding. Other friends on the street people referred him to CCO, and one person off the street himself, donated their walker to him since he is obviously worse off than they were. I can only hope I would be that unselfish. We call the ambulance and send him off, knowing that his Christmas has just been upgraded from the streets to the hospital.

All in the same holiday season the weather changes abruptly. The snow melts and it begins to rain. Up on the rooftop, drip, drip, drip. Again, no reindeer here, but a team of us join together to sweep several inches of water down a drain to slow the leaking. Miracle roofers appear and seal up enough holes to take us through the holidays.

Extra food, extra volunteers, water from beneath, water from above, drilling dust and swirling snow. The star continues to guide needy people to our doorstep, our neighbor requests prayer for his store clerk, the garbage compactor sticks, tables shift to accommodate more festive dinners and treats, bags of donated coats come in, and people shop through them. Life happens here in this harbor from the elements. Loneliness stops at these doors. The holiday celebrations of the poor and needy…good conversations, good advice, good food, good support… Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is right.

________________________________________________________

To each and every one of our many donors and supporters, the above recap of our holiday season is a small effort to try to convey to you a snapshot of what your time, effort, and finances accomplish. You bring the holiday season to our doorstep and without you, all of these stories would have had a different ending. While you were concentrating on providing gifts and food, you also were sheltering the autistic boy’s family and their dog, you provided Christmas at the last minute for the family of ten, and finally, on Christmas Eve, you helped send the man with the broken ankle to the hospital. Wonder and joy are being brought into the lives of the multitude who are crossing our threshold this holiday season. Without you, this work could not be done. I hope that you are beginning to see where your time and effort goes. Thank you so much and please visit us again when you can. Happy Holidays!

Run for Shelter!

Team CCO went the extra mile to help alleviate homelessness at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon! It’s not too late to donate. All the funds raised by Team CCO goes directly to support homeless families and adults at CCO!
We are impressed and grateful to every one of the Team CCO marathon runners who trained, fundraised and raised homeless awareness for Cornerstone families and single adults! We also want to thank everyone who joined us in the Charity Block cheer tent! Of course, we can’t forget all those who donated to CCO through our fabulous runners! This year, over $12,000 was raised to help alleviate homelessness in Chicago. If you’d like to make a donation today, visit our Team CCO Marathon page here.
These dollars represent practical help that will go toward nutritious meals, safe shelter, supportive services, and other essential needs for those sheltered at CCO.