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How do you stay home if you don’t have a home?

Stay home. Keep your social circle small. Don’t gather in large groups. If you were experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was impossible to follow guidance from medical professionals and government officials.

That was what the Community Shelter Board (CSB) faced: keeping central Ohio’s homeless population safe and well during a time of unknown challenges and invisible threats.

Michelle Heritage, executive director of CSB, recently shared how they overcame those challenges:

“We responded to the pandemic in two ways: how do we prevent the spread, and how do we respond to people who need care because they’ve been exposed?” said Heritage. “On the prevention pathway, we opened three new shelters in a 10-day period to get people spread far enough apart. On the response pathway, we opened a new medical shelter so that we could make sure that people who were exposed to COVID or had COVID had a place to stay where they could get the care that they needed.”

CSB was founded on the idea that a public-private partnership was the most powerful way to respond to homelessness. Today, all funding for homeless programs and permanent supportive housing in Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio, flows through CSB. This includes funding from federal sources, city and county governments, and the United Way of Central Ohio. In addition, CSB raises significant funding from private sector corporations, foundations and individuals.

“The most important thing I learned during the pandemic is that we can get things done in a fast, efficient, and, most importantly, innovative way,” said Heritage. “I hope that we don’t lose that when we go back to whatever normal is.”

To help address needs like this, the Nationwide Foundation assesses and awards grants to support organizations that provide emergency and basic needs and crisis stabilization. CSB is one of many recipients that benefit. Since 2000, the Foundation has contributed more than $550 million to nonprofit organizations to help meet crucial needs in those communities.

“The Nationwide Foundation provides beyond the financial support and resources that we need to get things done. They provide thought leadership and are a true partner,” said Heritage. “Many of the innovative things that we’ve been able to do are in partnership with the Nationwide Foundation at the table. They want to know how things are done because they want to know what works here in central Ohio and take those learnings to other communities.”

Heritage believes that what CSB learned during the pandemic will have a positive future impact.

“Anything is possible when people work together. Everyone came together to immediately respond to the most vulnerable in our community. Things that might have seemed impossible or taken much, much longer pre-pandemic, happened because they needed to happen.”

Visit csb.org for more information about how to help rebuild the lives of people experiencing homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County.