Waco considers funding for resource platform, homeless shelters during COVID-19 crisis | Local News

The Waco City Council on Tuesday will consider approving $150,000 for a community-based information system and data platform for Prosper Waco that leaders believe may help connect community needs with resources during the COVID-19 crisis.

The platform, called RoundTable, would combine data on community needs, mapped by neighborhoods when available, with information on local organizations and available resources.

Council members and city staff will meet online in a 3 p.m. work session and 6 p.m. business session, streamed live at www.wccc.tv. At the business session, the council will also consider increasing funds for local homeless shelters.

Prosper Waco executive director Suzii March Paynter said her agency for several months had been searching for an online resource to help identify community issues such as health, education and financial security while providing a way to connect with organizations and groups that could address those problems.

“We really felt like the for investment, it needed to be interactive and helpful to the community,” she said. 

They found what they were looking for in RoundTable, created by the Thriving Cities Group. As Waco began to face the local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prosper Waco officials decided to ask TCG to customize a RoundTable site to help with local COVID-19 communication and organization, March said. 

The Waco Working Together site, www.wacoworkingtogether.org/covid, organizes its information in four questions: What’s the current situation in Waco? Who is currently responding in Waco? Where can I get help? and How can I help?

The $150,000 requested from the city would fund the site’s design, construction and implementation, with Prosper Waco operating it.

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District on Monday reported one new case of COVID-19, bringing the total of confirmed cases in McLennan County to 77. Eighty-one cases are being monitored, 58 people have recovered and there are three current hospitalizations. Four people have died from COVID-19 and 866 people have been tested.

In other COVID-19 related action, the council also will hold a hearing on using $231,141 in unspent federal Community Development Block Grant funding to help homeless shelters run by Mission Waco and the Salvation Army that are facing increased operational costs due to the pandemic.

Housing and Code Enforcement director Galen Price said the money comes from unspent balances of finished CDBG projects stretching back to 2013. That amount would provide about 3½ months of operational funds for the two homeless shelters as the nonprofits prepare for the economic fallout from COVID-19, he said.

Both programs anticipate an increase in people needing emergency shelter in coming weeks, as well as increased costs in implementing changes caused by coronavirus protection measures such as social distancing and around-the-clock operation. The two shelters have operated primarily at night, but the city’s recent shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of coronavirus created a need for shelter residents to stay during the day.

Mission Waco presently is shifting its My Brother’s Keeper shelter program to a larger facility at an undisclosed Waco location, said Mission Waco director John Calaway. The move will provide more indoor room for greater spacing between bunks and outdoor space for recreation, he said. While the current 56-bed My Brother’s Keeper hasn’t hit capacity — warmer weather and the beginning of the month tend to depress use — Calaway said the time to prepare is now.

The Salvation Army’s Sally’s House shelter offers 20 beds for men and 15 for women and children and usually runs near capacity, said Major Jim Taylor. Shelter staff have rearranged bed layout to keep safe distances between people and moved dining to a sheltered area outside.

Changing to a 24-hour operation increased costs due to staffing, utilities and meals, even with increased donations from the community, Taylor said.

The council’s public hearing Tuesday also will include proposals to use $25,000 in unspent CDBG funds for Waco Transit bus shelters on routes in low- and moderate-income areas and $21,000 for YMCA of Waco water safety programs for children.

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