| August 10, 2020
When the COVID-19 stay at home orders were issued in March, CHHSM member United Caring Services (UCS) knew it had to continue to help the local Evansville, Ind., community it serves. UCS provides emergency and essential services via its day shelter, men’s and women’s night shelters, medical respite, and apartments, and has not closed any of its programs during the pandemic, says Jason Emmerson, executive director. In fact, during March and April, UCS was the only low-barrier day shelter available to guests who needed to use the restroom, shower, use laundry, get a hot meal inside, and generally escape the elements.
“There were a few moments where we wondered if we could stay open, but with so many places closing, we knew we had to,” Emmerson says. “We knew it was our mission to serve, and that meant to stay open and do better than our best to keep everyone safe as we served.”
In late March, UCS wrote and tested new protocols, then tweaked and implemented them. The new protocols created more stringent requirements than earlier guidelines for dealing with health issues. The protocols are still in place and, according to Emmerson, are still vitally important in keeping staff, volunteers and guests safe.
As part of the new procedures, everyone entering or leaving the night shelter and respite programs must have their temperature taken twice. Cleaning and disinfecting protocols have increased, and masks are required for all staff and volunteers, and for guests with symptoms. Emmerson says masks are encouraged for all guests, and are provided upon request, but are not required for asymptomatic guests. “We do not want to add a barrier” to accessing services, he says. “We want to offer dignity, respect, and safety to our guests which, at times, can be a balancing act when it comes to rules.” Additionally, guests who are symptomatic get into a local testing line to ensure they are COVID free.
Other protocols include enforced physical distancing. Staff removed 50 percent of the chairs, marked where people should stand while in line, and allow only 50 guests in at a time. Each meal time now has two sessions. “We started serving a little more food because there are times when we do not have seconds because we have two waves of people coming in to eat,” Emmerson says. “We stage it so that the first wave has some time to sit and eat. Then they leave, and the room is prepared for the second wave.”
UCS staff members have noticed additional anxiety caused by the pandemic, Emmerson says. “Imagine being homeless, with all the stressors and crises associated with that, and then adding COVID-19 to that,” he adds. “Some guests let it roll off, but generally speaking, the level of anxiety is higher for the people we serve.”
An unexpected factor that adds to the problems are non-homeless people who “get bent out of shape about masks, which trickles down to make the day-to-day lives of those who struggle even harder,” says Emmerson. To adequately serve the additional guests and their anxiety, UCS added a day shelter staff person on the weekends. All of the staff members, he adds, have been “heroic” in their willingness to serve.
Read the full article HERE on CHHSM’s website.