As many members of the public are urged to stay home, those with no home to go to have few options. But many of Williamsport’s shelters have their own stay-at-home policy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
American Rescue Workers’ family shelter and men’s shelter have both been closed to new entrants and those who currently live there are restricted from leaving, according to Cleveland Way, director of the ARW shelters.
“We are trying to minimize the risk, at best,” Way said. “If somebody gets sick and brings it back in, we’re in trouble.”
The risk is substantial and, Way added, there is no backup plan.
If cases start popping up in either shelter – among the participants or staff – the shelter would be forced to close and everyone inside would be out on the street.
“We’re not looking past tomorrow. We have projections. We’re trying not to go too far out, because that gets a little scary,” Way said.
Those in the shelter who have jobs may leave for work and others to pick up medication, Way said, but any other trips, such as to go to a store or for a walk or run, must be approved.
“Our quarantine area is set up for six people. Outside of that, we have no idea. We don’t have a back-up plan,” Way said.
Saving Grace, on Campbell Street, is a 30-day shelter for families or single men and women, and the men’s shelter, on Elmira Street, is an eight- to nine-month program for men. Saving Grace has two-person cubicles, while the men’s shelter is a single room with a row of beds, each three feet apart.
As the pandemic gathered speed in the United States, homeless shelters were caught unprepared, suddenly realizing the lack of supplies and the tight living quarters could be catastrophic.
As businesses suddenly began closing and positive cases spread throughout the state and county, the shelter leadership realized they needed to take drastic steps to limit an outbreak within the shelter.
At first a voluntary ban on travel outside the shelters, it is now a requirement for all of the residents.
“Those that are here are staying here.” he said.
There are exceptions for trips to the store or requests to go for a walk or a run, but Way said these are granted on a case-by-case basis and require a certain amount of trust with each individual.
The real issue is supplies, he admits. When the cases began to rise and quarantine became necessary, the shelter had very few masks, hygiene supplies, sanitizer and gloves. Even now, some items have been donated but the shelter is running low while still working with limited staff.
Many at the shelter don’t have an income and therefore have very little money for food, not to mention cleaning and personal hygiene items.
“If it isn’t given to them, they would go without,” Way said. “Hygiene is a major part of combatting this virus.”
If any residents of the shelters do get sick there is a quarantine area reserved at the American Rescue Workers church; however, it can only house six people.
The ARW social services center is still available to hand out food, even as numbers continue to rise: however, financial assistance has been suspended, Way said.
“We are doing what we can to give somebody a bed,” Way said. “And we’re trying to make ends meet so they can keep their bed.”