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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Family Shelters Losing Support And Space: 'We're Trying To Stay Positive'

Bethany House
A boy does his homework at one of the Bethany House shelters.

A month ago, Bethany House was looking at consolidating services and launching a capital campaign. Now, CEO Susan Schiller says the family shelter is trying to figure out how it and partners can face increased need and dwindling resources.

Bethany House is one of a few programs in the Cincinnati area dedicated to helping homeless families. "Our shelter is always full. In fact, sometimes we're over capacity," Schiller says. "Sometimes we will have families we'll have to put in hotels until we have available beds. Sometimes we have to put them on sofas."

Schiller says Bethany House has been in overflow mode since 2018. And now, the shelter faces a possible deluge of people seeking help. Fear of the coronavirus has led to the closure of non-essential businesses, which means tens of thousands of people find themselves without a paycheck. And with rent or mortgage payments due at the first of the month, many of those people are concerned about their housing situation.

Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio have all put holds on eviction cases, but they're temporary. "We're very concerned about increased need within our community." Schiller says Bethany House has been talking twice a day with partner organizations Salvation Army, Interfaith Hospitality Network, and the YWCA. "We anticipate there will be an increased need, with the economy, with people not being able to work. We're trying to figure out how we're going to deal with everybody," she says. "There's so many unknowns."

The shelters are dealing with what they do know in the meantime. Schiller says all four operations shut down their congregate operations earlier in the crisis. Those are dormitory living quarters. "In our Bond Hill shelter, we have 40 beds, so there would be nine to 11 families there. We would probably have 28 to 30 children in that shelter. You just can't keep social distancing when you have 28 kids and 3,000-square feet. You just can't do it. All of our other family shelters have a similar situation," she says.

Those families have been moved into hotel rooms, but Schiller isn't sure how long how long Bethany House can afford to keep them there, even with support from the United Way and the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

Schiller says they're also facing the cost of buying more disinfecting materials and supplies, and have lost a lot of volunteers due to social distancing orders. "We're trying to stay positive," she says.