Bankole: Detroit ministries care for homeless during crisis

Bankole Thompson

As confirmed cases of coronavirus rise in Detroit, so does concern for the well-being of the city’s homeless population, which is among the most vulnerable to the pandemic.

Homelessness coupled with existing health challenges can easily turn someone into a victim of COVID-19. 

In 2018, more than 10,700 people were homeless in Detroit. Local advocates say all hands are on deck to make sure that those who are homeless today are receiving proper care and support during the virus crisis.

“In recent weeks, we have been testing their temperatures and encouraging hand washing on getting to our facilities," said Chad Audi, president and CEO of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, which houses 2,000 individuals including women and children.

“Following guidelines from the CDC and state and city officials, we are keeping them six feet apart from each other. We also have stopped serving food communally. All common areas are frequently sanitized as appropriate, and our staff work with their personal protective equipment.”

A homeless woman panhandles on Warren Avenue in Detroit on Jan. 29, 2019.

He added, “In keeping with the need for social distancing, we have opened two new sites that are compliant, and are working toward the third one. Of course, those found with symptoms are transported to the quarantine facility in Detroit.”

Carina Jackson, the chief operating officer at Mariner’s Inn, which currently provides shelter for 150 men, said they began preparing for the outbreak as soon as they were aware.

“We ordered enough food and supplies to last for a few weeks," Jackson said. "The men have been antsy but we have provided some fun activities to keep them busy like games, movies, art projects, workout equipment and walking outside."

Jackson said the staff at the residential and substance abuse treatment center for the homeless is also being monitored. 

Cheryl Johnson, CEO of the Coalition on Temporary Shelters, which presently provides transitional housing for 45-50 families, says extra measures are being taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

“We have instituted protocols that allow us to quarantine families that are symptomatic and for those that have been exposed,” Johnson said. “In addition, our facility staff are conducting several rounds of cleaning and sanitization throughout the building every day of the week. We have contracted with a certified company who will also be coming in to train our front line staff on sanitization and cleaning.” 

She added, “All tours of our facility, meetings, volunteer opportunities and partnership engagements have been suspended until further notice. Our staff are monitoring each family for symptoms and prepared to refer to the protocol if needed. If symptoms are noted, a call is made to our centralized intake and transportation is provided to an off-site quarantine location provided by the Salvation Army.” 

Audi says one challenge in guarding against an outbreak is resources:

“The major problems we are facing now include the fact that we are stretching our staff so much, and are paying a lot in overtime. We need more staff to meet the complex needs of the moment,” he said. “We don't have the number of staff we need in this fight. Some, as you can imagine, have pre-existing conditions and cannot be on the front lines. And group volunteers are certainly not an option at this time. So, our costs have gone way up. But we are choosing the health of our clients, staff and the community at large over money.” 

The stress of COVID-19 remains an issue for all of us while we are all adopting new precautions. 

“We will continue to communicate with the clients and staff at Mariners Inn to keep them calm and aware so their level of anxiety and panic are reduced,” Jackson said.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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