SHERIDAN — When fire struck the second story of the Edwards Hotel at 530 North Main Street Feb. 20, several agencies arrived on scene, from fire departments to law enforcement. Also on scene was a representative from Volunteers of America Northern Rockies, who responded to surviving tenants’ immediate needs.
Benjamin Abrams, the service coordinator for the Homeless Outreach Program of the VOANR, said his entity provided families with temporary housing and other services. The Homeless Outreach Program was established shortly after the homeless shelter closed in September 2017.
“We have instituted the Homeless Outreach Program in the hope that we can assist those with emergency shelter, rapid rehousing and homeless prevention,” Abrams said in an email to The Sheridan Press.
“We believe that everyone deserves to have a safe and secure place to live and collaborate with various community partners to ensure this.”
In addition to local connections, VOANR connected with the American Red Cross, which also aided in providing needs for the families displaced by the fire. Following Abrams’ and the VOANR’s work, the agency and the local fire department reached out to the state’s American Red Cross on Feb. 26 to assist two families impacted by the fire. They provided financial aid for immediate needs like hotel stay, replacement clothes, cleaning smoky clothes and food.
“We were able to meet with them, talk about what they had been doing and what they needed going forward,” Disaster Program Manager Gehrig Haberstock said. “…We provided them financial assistance to empower them in their recovery going forward.”
The ARC is traditionally designed to provide immediate assistance to people or places following disaster. After immediate needs are taken care of, case workers follow up to make sure things are progressing well.
The ARC is established with headquarters in Cheyenne and Casper, which is where the agency sees the bulk of its emergency responses. While the majority of volunteers and paid workers through the ARC call those locations home, other volunteers are scattered throughout the state. Often, headquarters will deploy additional volunteers to aid those living in communities who are providing emergency service support to those in need, whether it is a fire, flood or other disaster.
Haberstock described Wyoming’s ARC system in the rebuilding process with Sheridan. The downside of having a workforce constructed primarily of volunteers is the support can be inconsistent at times.
“We did have a really involved volunteer,” Haberstock said. “With volunteerism, people’s lives ebb and flow, they have more time to volunteer, less time to volunteer, and so who we had, had to step back a little bit.”
Haberstock said three trained and qualified volunteers in Sheridan County would be ideal to rely on for completing services in the area, much like other non-headquartered communities throughout the state. If cities are in dire need of a temporary homeless shelter or other large-scale emergency aid, ARC will send additional help.
The training to become a volunteer with the ARC requires a quick phone call and conversation with Haberstock, who will then set people up with an eight-hour training.
While the ARC is currently seeking dedicated volunteers to serve as Sheridan response teams when disaster strikes, the organization and other agencies, like VOANR, are there to provide help when needed.