'It's Impossible To Keep Social Distance In Homeless Shelters,' So Groups Ask For Help

Mar 24, 2020

Shelters working with those experiencing homelessness say they need help. While Cincinnati has a space for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, advocates say they need to get people out of group shelters for safety and to prevent further spread.

"We have a whole bunch of people living in our shelter in very close proximity. We do our best to keep the social distancing but it is impossible," says City Gospel Mission President Roger Howell.

He and other advocacy groups came together Tuesday to ask for support.

"We are pleading with government officials, with foundations, and businesses to help provide the funds so that we can get our folks into individual rooms with individual bathrooms so they can get the social distancing they need," Howell says.

People living in close quarters also puts staff at risk, especially people who may have the disease and not know it.

"It's a rapid spread," says Dr. Bob Donovan from the Cincinnati Health Network. "Then staff get infected and they can't work and it can get out to the community as well. ... Crowded shelters are not going to do well with this."

According to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, funds have been coming in, but they're quickly being exhausted. Executive Director Josh Spring estimates $1.2 million is needed to pay for 1,000 hotel rooms for two weeks.

Spring says some hotels have stepped forward to offer discounted rooms, but dollars are needed to take advantage of those offers. He's asking the public to donate hotel rooms or funds for hotel rooms, too. The coalition is open to other housing solutions such as empty dorm rooms on local college campuses, should that be an option.

Shelterhouse and City Gospel, the two largest individual shelters, have identified 212 people at higher risk of COVID-19 because of age or health problems. Those individuals would be prioritized for hotel rooms or single housing.

Agencies that help families experiencing homelessness are also in need of funds to place families together in their own spaces. Stacey Burge, executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, says some initial funding allowed family shelters to get clients into suite-style extended stay housing, but more units are needed as well as funding to keep paying for those rooms.

"In addition to that hotel space, we've had to completely reconfigure the way we feed people," she states. "We normally feed families in a congregant way in one big room with a commercial kitchen ... we can't do it that way anymore."

The Salvation Army reports it's been able to place some people with families but those families still need help with costs of housing additional members.

Major Everett Henry with the Salvation Army of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky says funds for these special housing needs will be funneled through two large, local agencies: United Way and the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. A memo line should be included with donations to indicate they're to be directed to this effort.

Funds for groups looking to home families may be directed through Strategies to End Homelessness.