The Northern Lights Alliance for the Homeless shelters didn’t close its Mason City doors to those in need even once during the pandemic. Instead, staff across four locations stocked up on hand sanitizer and face masks and encouraged guests to social distance. That’s because NLAHS are emergency shelters, which sometimes means opening their doors to people in the middle of the night to ensure their safety.
“Something that’s very integral and important to our mission is to be there in case of emergency,” said Jesse Germundson, executive director at NLAHS. “When there’s domestic violence, human trafficking and unsafe situations when the police intervene, the police, local first responders or emergency medical services will call us.”
Another important aspect of NLAHS’s mission? To provide services that assist clients in post-shelter life. This could mean connecting homeless veterans to mental health and substance abuse resources, or it could mean helping homeless women and families source permanent housing. What truly makes these shelters unique is their ability to focus on the personalized needs of the individual.
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“We’re a small organization, so we have the capacity to treat people on a case-by-case basis,” said Germundson, who explained that the job of NLAHS case managers is to assess the needs and goals of the individuals who arrive at their shelters and help them create a long-term plan. “We’ll get them in the shelter, and within 72 hours, our case manager will meet with them and assess their goals — what they want to do, what they need to do, and what they have to do — and we will start laying out a plan for them, (including) ‘This is the doctor you need to see. This is the place you need to call. Here’s a list of landlords. Here’s a list of temp agencies.’”
NLAHS also provides food, clothing, bedding and financial assistance to roughly 320 homeless veterans, men, women and children each year — especially during snowstorms and heat waves when spending time outdoors ill prepared poses increased health risks.
“When people think of a shelter, they think of a bunch of cots stacked up in a YMCA,” said Germundson. That’s not what NLAHS is. Each location has a common area or family room, a kitchen to prepare food and full bathroom to wash up, and a washer and dryer for laundry. “Our places are well taken care of (and) our staff is respectful.”
Still, NLAHS is an agency of few board members and a staff of about a dozen volunteers, some who dedicate their nights and others their weekends to cook meals, offer rides or host a series of support groups, from Bible study to survivors of human trafficking.
In addition to volunteers’ time, the organization also accepts monetary donations as well as in-season clothing, gift cards in small increments that the homeless can use, and offers of employment.
“There’s a lot of different ways to get involved,” said Germundson.
Learn more about NLAHS’s mission and donation details by visiting northernlightsshelters.org.