City Mission – Living Stones hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic | Helping the Helpers

City Mission-Living Stones in Uniontown is among nonprofits that are struggling due to COVID-19 (photo by Alyssa Choiniere).

By Alyssa Choiniere

UNIONTOWN, Pa. — City Mission – Living Stones is much more than a homeless shelter, enabling people to secure long-term housing and providing young people who are involved with the justice system counseling and other services.

(Capital-Star file)

Like other area non-profits, the Uniontown organization is seeing a strong need for human services in the community, which they are trying to meet with their fundraising sources cut.

“All of our staff is taking pay cuts. A lot of our staff is working reduced hours,” said Executive Director Irmi Gaut. “We wonder how we’re going to make it every single month.”

They were forced to move their annual 5K fundraiser online, which provides their main source of fundraising revenue. It raised only a fraction of their typical funds. They also canceled their annual craft fair and calendar party, said Director Dan Sochko.

The biggest hit was a thwarted long-term investment. The organization opened ASPIRE Youth Center in March, a short-term secure detention facility for boys ages 13 to 18. The center is located in a comfortable home which can accommodate up to 12 boys, and provides them with education, mental health and other services.

“It’s truly very needed,” he said.

City Missions – Living Stones Executive Director Irmi Gaut and Director Dan Sochko are pictured at the Gallatin School Living Centre, a transitional and permanent living facility in Uniontown. They said the organization is struggling financially in the pandemic (Alyssa Choiniere photo).

Judges, juvenile probation officers and others commended the organization, and they signed contracts with multiple counties in the area, expecting the facility to be full. The counties would pay a per diem to ASPIRE to reimburse the organization. Then, weeks after opening, counties were no longer able to transport the teens to other facilities due to COVID-19 restrictions. Because the home is a secure facility, it requires 24/7 staffing regardless of the number of residents.

“We made this huge investment that should have been revenue producing. We’re losing money where we should have been making money,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate the timing of everything, but we trust God,” Gaut added. “This isn’t just a job. This is a calling for all of us.”

Their emergency shelters’ capacity has been reduced by about half due to COVID-19 restrictions, they said, and staff have been spending much of their time cleaning and sanitizing. Staff also has additional jobs that were previously filled by outside services, like taking residents to appointments or buying groceries.

They also renovated an apartment for anyone who is experiencing symptoms to be separated from the rest of the residents. It hasn’t been necessary yet, but Gaut said she expects it will be as more cases of the coronavirus are reported in rural areas.

They said they hope a moratorium on evictions continues until social distancing restrictions are lifted.

“We’re really concerned that the floodwaters will be let loose as soon as the moratorium is lifted,” Sochko said.

The greatest needs at the City Mission – Living Stones are monetary donations, they said. Cleaning supplies and toiletries are also needed.

To donate, visit https://citymissionfayette.org/how-you-can-help/ or call the office at 724-439-0201. To hold a toiletry drive, call the office.

Alyssa Choiniere is a reporter for the Uniontown Herald-Standard, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story is being simultaneously published. Readers may email Alyssa at [email protected]