Mary Olive Johnson wrote to us from Eagle Butte, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, in South Dakota, where she runs a homeless shelter, to inform us of the passing of NICOA Senior Community Service Employment Program participant David Sunka Ska. He passed away November 16, 2020, at the age of 61 due to colon cancer. Previously, he worked as an employee of The Mustard Seed, a a privately-funded shelter for the homeless and distributor of food to people in need.
“We operate a homeless shelter with a main house for group activity, and 10 two-person tiny houses for residents. We closed the main house, where David worked, in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” wrote Johnson. “It is now raging on the reservation. Our occupancy is at an all-time low, with most of our residents either in tribal quarantine facilities or choosing to shelter elsewhere with friends or family. We cannot accept new residents at this time, and the reservation is going back to full lockdown.”
“We have chosen to serve those who are most likely to be rejected by other shelters because of alcohol, non-membership in this tribe, or other reasons. We knew it would be impossible to control their associations or safety precautions. Sadly, all the tribe’s shelters have also had major outbreaks and are quarantined, so I do not know what homeless people will do this winter. Perhaps some different policies will be implemented when people freeze to death.
“David has been a real blessing to us and will be missed — both personally and from the organization’s perspective. We hope we will remain on your list for a future worker but, like the rest of the country, our schedule is being set by COVID now. We will follow the vaccination program and local infection rates closely and will contact you as soon as we see a possible opening.”
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