How can a homeless shelter survive the CoronaVirus?

It was December 2014. About a week before Christmas. I was living in a homeless shelter in the Lincoln park area of Chicago. The flu was causing havoc among the residents. My goal for the holiday was not to become one of its victims.

One afternoon, a group of us were playing a dice game. It was a regular activity among my group of shelter friends. A way to kill time and boredom of shelter life. After an hour or so, my head started hurting. I said I needed to lay down for a bit. Two hours later, I awoke and was shivering. I needed two blankets to get warm.

I didn’t accomplish my Christmas goal. I had the flu.

Out of thirty-five shelter residents, ten or so of us became ill. Whenever someone recovered, someone else got sick. It was if we were a group of grammar school kids passing our ailments back and forth. That’s what happens when a large group of people live in close quarters. It’s hard, if not impossible, to prevent it.

It’s now five years later. Everyone has recovered from the flu epidemic. Everyone has moved on with their lives. The shelter is still in existence with a new group of residents.

It’s five years later. A new disease has rocked the world. Covid-19. The CoronaVirus. It’s a pandemic. If a shelter can’t stop the flu from ravaging it’s building, what chance does it have to handle this?

So many issues. So many problems? Where will everyone sleep? How do handle social distancing? How do you keep the building clean? What about the volunteers that are a vital part of contributing to the shelters success? How can you feed everyone? How do you keep everyone inside?

The sleep issue is tough. This shelter has two dorms with the people sleeping in bunk beds. It’s a little too close for comfort. The solution was to take the bunks down and spread them out on two floors. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is. It’s the best they can do under trying circumstances.

As for keeping the place clean, the residents are assigned daily chores. I used to make jokes about how cleaning the door knobs was the sweetest gig in the place. It’s not so funny anymore. The person who handles that may have the most important job in the shelter. It suddenly became important! Go figure. There’s always been daily sweeping and mopping of the floors. I’m sure that continues and the cleaning is deeper than usual.

Volunteers were always important to the success of the shelter. They answered phones, taught classes and most importantly, provided daily meals. For the safety of everyone, volunteers have now been put on hold. The problem becomes how do you feed thirty-five people three times a day? Honestly, I don’t know how it gets done. I’ve seen where food has been left at the shelter door and restaurants in the area have given meals. The longer this continues, the bigger problem this will be.

Finally, what about social distancing and keeping everyone inside? I’m not sure there’s enough room in the building to keep everyone six feet apart. I have seen photos of the residents going on group walks with everyone doing their best to keep to themselves. Like everything else, they’re doing the best they can.

So far, so good. However, we’re in the early part of the pandemic. As we move further into this, the numbers will go higher and no one will be immune to the virus….shelters included. Hell, shelters especially.

I guess everyone in shelters will just have to do what we all are told to do to stay safe:
Wash your hands and practice social distancing.

If you want to help, here’s a link to Lincoln Park Community Services. They have an Amazon wish list and a section where you can find out more about donating.

This is another piece in the ongoing series Faces of Homelessness. Click on the link to find more stories.

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