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Rapid City Civic Center Transformed Into Shelter For People Sick, Homeless

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An emergency shelter in the Rapid City Civic Center is up and running for sick homeless people.

It’s designed to handle a potential COVID-19 outbreak among the homeless population and offer care during the pandemic.

The Civic Center’s Rushmore Hall is transformed into a three-tiered emergency shelter.  Jeremy Walla with the Pennington County Emergency Operations Center gives a tour. The facility is complete with beds and laundry service.  

The emergency center—supported by several city, county and tribal organizations—has showers and hot water heaters. Nine medical staff will work on a rotating basis and offer 24 hour support.

So far, the bulk of COVID-19 spread in South Dakota is on the eastern side of the state.

Jerilyn Church is the CEO of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board. She’s from the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Church says tribal epidemiologists are tracking data from tribes in SD, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

“Some of the data might lead peole to believe the numbers are going down in South Dakota,” Church says. “But, those numbers were an anomaly because of the Smithfield outbreak in Sioux Falls. You take out that anomaly and what we see—according to our epidemiology center—is that the numbers are going up here in Pennington County and our nearby reservation communities.”

Church says tribal members are particularly susceptible to coronavirus infections. Officials say 93 percent of the Rapid City homeless population are indigenous.

While COVID-19 cases are still low in the western part of the state, Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender says they are preparing for a worst-case scenario.

“If we get the best outcome possible, all this will be for nothing and we will look like we overreacted,” Allender says. “The goal here is to look like we overreacted and spent money that didn’t need to be spent. It’s a pretty odd situation for a government and community to go through.”

The John T. Vucurevich foundation provided $23,000 to put up the emergency center. Allender says local governments will foot the bill for ongoing costs.