Operating a homeless shelter during the pandemic (Expert Advice)

Operating a homeless shelter during the pandemic (Expert Advice)

Bisbee-Coalition-For-the-Homeless-podcstPodcast speakers: Savannah McIntosh (Purplepass Marketing Director) and Tony Bedolla (Executive Director for BCH).

Jump to links and video notes below. 

 

The EventBuzz podcast: Bisbee Coalition For the Homeless 

 

 

7:40 - Running a shelter during COVID-19

14:15 - Tips for hosting outdoor event events

18:30 - Volunteers for events

 

Podcast transcript: Bisbee Coalition For the Homeless:

 

Savannah (Purplepass):  

Welcome to another episode of the EventBuzz podcast by Purplepass, a podcast where we connect different industry experts and event professionals online, sharing ideas, insider tips and inspiring others in the event space. Inspiring is a great word for our next guest. Today we have executive director for the Bisbee Coalition for the Homeless in Arizona, a center that isn't just a shelter, but an agency that genuinely cares for the welfare of anyone and everyone who has a need.

Not only do they offer a place to stay, but hot meals, showers, laundry, and a wide array of other services. The nonprofit operates entirely off of grants, donations, and fundraisers. With their next benefit concert just around the corner. We are going to talk all about what it takes to run a successful fundraiser event. And other advice for nonprofits listening, looking for more creative ways they can raise money to support a cause. Here we go.

 

Hi, Tony, how are you doing?

 

Tony (BCH): 

I am doing really good. Please forgive me. I have a little bit of a sore throat. So if sound horses It's not the audio. It's me.

 

Savannah:

Okay, hopefully it's just a sore throat. Nothing more.

 

Tony:

Right.

 

Savannah:

Yeah. Well, thanks for talking to me today, then, especially since you're not feeling the best.

 

Tony:

Absolutely.

 

Savannah:

Okay. So I'll try not to make you talk too much. You can keep things brief. So let's just dive right into it. Let's start by just introducing the listeners to your guys nonprofit, overall mission, the services you provide, how I got started?

 

Tony:

Well, it's real grassroots organization, it started way before I was probably even born, not joking. It started way back in the 80s. But it was incorporated in 1996 as a nonprofit. But up until that point, they just kind of gathered together, community members would come to this building and they would serve meals to whoever needed a meal. And I think they were serving about 20, maybe 30 individuals, and then it kind of evolved into a soup kitchen and an emergency sleep overnight sort of arrangement.

And they were having about 10 to 15 men, gentlemen, coming. And then at one point, somebody said, you know, we really need to organize so that we can can maybe garnish some some grants and some resources and get some money flowing into this place so that we can really offer more support.

So they incorporated in 1996, became an official soup kitchen, and then became an official emergency shelter. But at that time, it was only for men. So I think that they were averaging about 10 men per night and I do believe that on on once per week, they were having a community dinner where they invited the public to come. And they would it would be kind of like a smorgasbord or potluck, so to speak. People bring in meals, and they would, they would all share a meal.

And then I took over as director in 2013 and immediately decided that we needed to do more for our community and then not just be limited to men as a shelter. So I I requested some funding, and we got some funding, and we opened up our anax in 2016.

And now we offer shelter to men, women and families and it's not just an emergency shelter, because the emergency shelter model is they come in, they have a meal, they stay overnight, and then we kick them out and we changed that.

So now it's a program. We have shelter, food and advocacy for for men, women and families with children and we allow them to stay here so that we can monitor them monitor their progress, I'm sorry, their progress. And then to make to ensure that they're getting into self sufficiency, that's the ultimate goal is to get them into self sufficiency into housing into a job if possible.

If they're not employable, then we help them get into benefits that they might be entitled to. And we get them counseling, we have counseling here, but we also get him into behavioral health agencies to help them with addictive behavior, mental illness and, and that sort of thing. Now to the community, now, those are our clients, now into our community, we actually give back everything week. We go into the community, we clean up streets, we, we cut grass, mend fences, fix faucets, and then that sort of thing and then we also hand out a lot of food.

So this past year, just to put it in perspective, we handed out 100,000 meals. So, yeah, that's a lot, especially for such a small agency only have five staff members. So we use our we use our clients when they come here. We try to, we hold them accountable and part of holding them accountable is actually working for what they get. So they stay at the shelters, there's no charge to state the shelter, but we do make them go out into the community and volunteer. We do make them help us hand out the food, go clean yards, they become a part of our actual shelter.

They take ownership. It's not just you sit here, you sit around, you know, whenever you feel like it, you do something. That's not the way it operates here. We actually hold them accountable.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, while also like giving back to the community, that's awesome.

 

Tony:

Absolutely. Yes. That's that's definitely something that we we really stress giving back to the community, because we're supported completely by the community and by our fundraisers, we don't get any government help.

 

Savannah:

Yeah. Yeah, that's amazing. I love it. I was just looking through his website. And it looks like you guys offer like you said, so much more than just a shelter. I love that.

So I wanted to, we can briefly just look at how, how is your, the shelter's experience been dealing with COVID? Are you guys able to stay open? Because it's such a hands on thing.

 

Tony:

Um, you know, originally when it first happened, and of course, everybody wasn't sure how, how serious this pandemic was going to be. And by March, you know, when we had kind of filtered through what we were what we were facing, originally, we shut down for about three days, just so that we could strategize how we were going to approach this, because homelessness doesn't stop just because of pandemics.

Right, and also with with the uncertainty in the economy, we we actually noticed that there were a lot more people asking for a lot of help, especially when it came to food when it came to rental assistance when it came to utility assistance. So we were, we strategized.

So our first step was that we actually opened up a house, we rented a house rented a property, four bedroom house, so that we could isolate anyone in the shelter, who we thought was presenting some of the COVID symptoms, and then we could isolate them, and we could get them through that.

And then and then bring them back to the facility once they got through that if they got through it. Fortunately, we have not had any of our clients who are in our program, contract the virus. So we've been very fortunate with that. However, we have had some of those that we help out in the community, those who are underserved. The homeless who won't come to a shelter who are living out in tents, we've had four of them contract the virus.

And so we here at the shelter, we we check our temperatures twice a day, that was one of the steps that we took, we sanitize twice a day, first thing in the morning, I mean, we sprayed the place down with with a vinegar spray, it's mixed with water and you just spray the whole place down. We were constantly wiping down the common use surfaces. We're taking temperatures twice a day, we're no longer allowing volunteers to come in and that was that was kind of, you know, here's, here's, here's, here's our pillars, and we don't have them anymore.

So we no longer allow them because we were actually having a community dinner where we were serving about 150 people that we that we had to actually put a halt to. But what we do do is we hand out meals in takeout containers curbside service. So anybody can can pull up to the shelter, we have a we have a little sign that says stop here. Somebody will come out to you. They'll ask you what you need. You don't have to get out of the vehicle. They need food, we give them food. If they need a meal, a hot meal, we give them a hot meal.

If they need to need to take a shower, they still can come to our shower, take a shower and then we sanitize it afterwards. We still allow laundry. The only thing is we don't let them come in. We take the clothes and we laundered the clothes for them ourselves.

It's been very successful. Communities just just really appreciative of what we're doing. And there's a lot of hungry folks out there. So like I said, the homeless, it doesn't stop when just because of pandemic. I think we've actually had more people in the shelter since the pandemic than when there was before the pandemic. We just continue.

And we've been very fortunate. And we do have our, a lot of our clients do have appointments, like with counselors, job appointments, job interviews, housing appointments. So we require that they mask up, and then when they return to the shelter, they have to sanitize. So, so far we've we've been able to mitigate any virus contraction.

 

Savannah:

Wow. Yeah, that's amazing. And the curbside pickup, that's kind of something you guys can continue on even when COVID is over I would think. 

 

Tony:

Yeah, we're actually contemplating that it works out pretty good.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, that's a lot of things like that have happened talking to different promoters and stuff, they'll do something in response to COVID. And then it's actually it actually works out really well. And they're like, 'hey, well, maybe we're gonna keep doing this' even beyond, you know, the pandemic.

 

Tony:

Absolutely. Yeah, I think our world has changed. permanently. I don't think we're gonna go back to anything that's like we like we were accustomed to, I do believe they're saying, you're gonna see a lot of mask wearing for a long time, you're gonna see a lot of, of, you know, taking extra precautions. But that's okay. 

 

Savannah: 

Yeah, I mean, we just have to adjust and adapt. Like you're doing now. It's all about your attitude. So stay positive. So I wanted to jump into you guys. You still have an upcoming event in May, right?

 

Tony:

Yeah, well, no. In discussion with Los Lobos and then the other performers. I think that because in Arizona, you still can only have 25 at an outdoor event that just would not be able to satisfy our need to generate revenues because our revenues 30% of our operating revenues come from these fundraisers.

So you know, that wouldn't be enough. So we've talked, we've been in discussion with Los Lobos. And I think with Los Lobos, we've already nailed them down to October. It's the other performers that we're still working with because we're also having a fantastic group called FLG A Tribute to Carlos Santana.

They're amazing. I don't know, YouTube them. They're amazing! They sound just like Carlos. And so we're trying to work around their schedule. And then we had a group that has has come to our other events, the Bisbee Mariachi Festival. And they were our headliner this past time in 2019. And they have agreed to come to we just got to work, work it into their schedule.

So it's definitely going to be in October. We're not sure exactly when, and I'll make the changes to our site, or Purplepass site. As soon as we nail down the exact date. It's looking like it's going to be October 2, which is a Saturday.

 

Savannah:

So have you done these fundraising? You've done events in the past?

 

Tony:

We have. We've used you guys three times or four times.

 

Savannah:

Yeah. Like years past events through us. And notice that one thing I noticed was most of them are, I think all of them were out outdoors, right?

 

Tony:

They're all outdoors. Yes.

 

Savannah:

I wanted to ask you about that. Because that's also a question we get a lot about when it comes to like venues whether they should do outdoor, indoor. I just wanted to get your take on it because I'm sure you are involved with planning it. What would you say is like a challenge when it comes to hosting outside events, if there is one and then maybe any, like suggestions you can give to people that are trying to do their first outdoor event.

 

Tony:

Outdoor events are challenging, in the sense that because it's an outdoor events, a lot of a lot of I want to make this gentle so that I'm not sounding like we're not grateful. But a lot of community members like to attend our event for free, if you know what I mean.

 

Savannah:

Yeah.

 

Tony:

So they just sit outside and just listen...that that's, that's, that's a challenge. Now the the last menu, the last menu we've done, the Mariachi Festival and then the one we plan on doing the Los Lobos concert. It's a huge venue to wear that it's almost impossible for them to just sneak in, you know, sneak in a show without having to pay.

Keeping the place secure, can can be a challenge, I would, I would encourage anyone planning and outside of that, to make sure you have good security, you're you're making sure that people are safe, that things that don't need to be coming into your your event, don't don't make it. And yet, still making the the event friendly, you know, not like it's a custom sort of atmosphere where you have people, you know, waving a metal detector wand on you and going through your stuff, you really don't want to do that.

So what we tried to do, and I think we've been pretty successful, is that we make sure that on all our marketing material, and we even have big signs up and set it to tell our customers, our attendees, 'this is what's allowed to come in this is what's not allowed to come in.'

And I think that that really mitigates some of those those issues. We've never had an issue with somebody trying to come in with way too much, because it's clearly indicated what you can on our marketing material, our posters, and then we have big signs up right as you arrive. 'This is what you can bring in and this is what you can't.' So I think only one or two times we had some people question that we had one person tried to bring in like a 15 inch knife that we didn't allow him to come in.

And then then everybody wants to bring in their own drinks and then we don't allow that either. So I think that that if anybody's doing an outside event, that's what I would encourage, make sure it's understood. It's indicated on all your marketing material. You'll even see it on our Purplepass site where we have, this is what you can bring and this is what you can't bring.

 

Savannah:

No, you just have one entrance and one exit, basically.

 

Tony:

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. That's a very good point.

 

Savannah:

Yeah. Oh, cool. And are you planning on having vendors at this next event? Or have you had them in the past?

 

Tony:

That's if that's something that's involved for us too. So the first time we had an event, we only had 1200 attend. And then to make sure that we were receiving a good chunk of the revenue. Since we were doing all the legwork, we made it exclusive to us for vending food. So we're the only ones but that's that's really a that's a difficult task.

And we learned as we got bigger than it got more difficult. So this last time, we actually had 8000 attendees. We solicited food vendors. So we had food vendors come in, I think we had 11 come in, and we charged we charged in kind of a vending fee, so to speak.

Yeah. So we don't have to worry about for preparing to stay prepared to food and we just got a fee.

 

Savannah:

And you sat back relax.

 

Tony:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And actually got to enjoy the event. You know, I think it was like, four or five events and I only saw like one performer. As an organizer. That's how crazy it can get.

 

Savannah:

Especially if you guys have such a small staff to see you're probably hustling all the time.

 

Tony:

Right? Right. Right. That would be the second, so cuz cuz you had you said list three, three things that I would recommend. Volunteers make sure you have volunteers who are there, because they're helping your organization and they're committed to it. And not somebody who just going to show up because they want to get a free concert.

It's really important. Your volunteers are really, really crucial to successful event.

 

Savannah:

How many volunteers would you say you guys need? So you said the last one was like 8000. So how many?

 

Tony:

We had 140 volunteers?

 

Savannah:

Okay, so a lot. I would say the more the merrier, honestly.

 

Tony:

Yeah. But then you have to, you have to manage them.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, that's true. And besides your fundraiser, so you have the fundraiser, fundraiser events, then, besides that, you do grants and you accept donations. What other way have you found, like any, like for collecting donations? Like how do you encourage them? What has been the most effective for like getting out into your community and letting them know about what you guys are doing?

 

Tony:

Wow, that's a good question. Um, you know, we don't we don't do a lot of advertising of ourselves. And maybe that's a mistake. We like we, my hope is that what we do is so encouraging to those around us that people seek us out and, and want to contribute to us because they see what we're doing.

You know what I mean?

So visually, they can see what we're doing. They're hearing, they're hearing it through the grapevine word of mouth, that, 'hey, this organization really, really helps out. Is this an organization that I want to, to donate to?'

And I think that works, because we get a lot of unsolicited donations. 

 

Savannah:

Word of mouth is actually the obviously the most powerful form of marketing. If you can get one person talking one person to share, and it just travels.

 

Tony:

Absolutely. Yeah. So far it's been successful. We do put out an ad around the tax credit time, November through March, we do put out an ad in our local paper, and I say, that helps someone.

 

Savannah:

That's awesome. And then I guess, to help, I mean, like we said, word of mouth. So how right now can I tell people, how can they support this organization? What should they do?

 

Tony:

Absolutely. Um, they can send a check to us. BCH. They don't have to put up Bisbee Coalition for Homeless, BCH will work to po box 5393 Bisbee, Arizona 85603. Or they can go to our website, if you went to our website, you'll see that there's a donate tab, and you can go there and you can donate to our our website.

 

Savannah:

Amazing. Awesome. Thanks. You guys are incredible. everything you're doing you're impacting so many lives, I'm sure you know, but I just want to make sure I say it again, like you guys are awesome. And keep up what you're doing.

 

Tony:

Thank you, Savannah. I appreciate you reaching out to us.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, yeah.

 


Video notes and links


Bisbee Coalition for the Homeless: 

About BCH 

Donate to BCH

 

Resources for nonprofits: 

How to collect donations online

Ticket discount for nonprofits 

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