Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Update: Colorado Springs homeless shelters see new challenges related to COVID-19

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2020 at 10:31 AM

click to enlarge Springs Rescue Mission has been encouraging people to keep the maximum spatial distance possible to prevent the spread of viruses. - THOMAS VOSS
  • Thomas Voss
  • Springs Rescue Mission has been encouraging people to keep the maximum spatial distance possible to prevent the spread of viruses.


The Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery announced it will keep its shelter and food pantry open to the community during this time.

"Following CDC and government recommendations, The Salvation Army has cancelled large meetings, after-school children’s programs and some other non-essential group meetings," the nonprofit said in a statement.

The Salvation Army's food pantry at 908 Yuma St. will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the Colorado Kitchen at the same location will serve $2 to-go meals only at lunch and dinner.

Salvation Army staff have increased cleaning at shelters and kitchens, the statement said.

The nonprofit is in "desperate need" of nonperishable food items such as dried beans, rice, peanut butter, jelly, canned soup, canned chicken, tuna, dried pasta, pasta sauce and easy-to-make meals; as well as hand sanitizer for the shelter.

“The Salvation Army cares deeply for our clients, staff, volunteers and community. While we’re here all year long, we are stepping up our efforts during this time of uncertainty to be there for those who need us,” Captain Doug Hanson said in the statement.


In recent days, Springs Rescue Mission has been seeing more people than usual at its day services and resource center, says Chief Development Officer Travis Williams.

The center "can fill up rather quickly," Wiliams says. "It's not uncommon for us to have 150 to 200 individuals getting services every day out of the resource center."

Unlike its shelter, SRM's resource center is open during the daytime. And people who may have visited Pikes Peak Library District locations for resources, internet access or even a place to sit out of the cold can no longer go to the library — all PPLD locations closed March 16, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

At the resource center, where SRM provides laundry services, showers and access to partner agencies who can help individuals with food, employment and other assistance, Williams says the nonprofit saw about 30 more people than normal over the weekend.

And Williams expects new challenges as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.

"We don't have the luxury of closing down," he says, "because we are the primary place for people who need shelter to be, and people who need day services to be, and people who need showers and people who need meals."

Springs Rescue Mission, which operates the city's largest low-barrier shelter (sobriety is not a requirement), hasn't been filling all of its beds. The night of March 16, for example, the shelter had 70 beds unoccupied, down from 93 on March 15 and 104 on March 14.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery had 44 family beds open March 16. There was just one low-barrier bed unoccupied on the men's side of the shelter, and the low-barrier beds for women were full.

David Carter, 63,
is part of the unsheltered population in Manitou Springs. He generally avoids the Colorado Springs shelters out of preference, but says he's heard of others not going there specifically for fear of COVID-19.

"A lot of people say they won't go down there because of the cold and virus," Carter says.

Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions (including heart disease, diabetes or lung disease) are most at risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19. Much of the unhoused population fits in one or both of those categories.

Carter's own immediate concern: He's had a difficult time getting ahold of his primary care provider. He's left multiple voicemails over the past couple of days but they haven't been answered, he says.

He can take care of most services — such as food assistance and Social Security — over the phone, he says, but he's worried that his doctor's office has been overwhelmed by the call volume.

Carter's worried about catching the virus, too, but is doing his best to take extra prevention measures. For example, he helped sanitize St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Manitou Springs, where he was able to pick up a bagged lunch provided by nonprofit Silver Key Senior Services on March 17.

And if resources grow scarcer, Carter believes people experiencing homelessness will be able to rely on one another.

"We survive out here and do pretty well," Carter says. "We don't let each other go hungry."

To prevent the
spread of COVID-19 at the shelter, Williams says SRM has been encouraging guests to wash their hands and has hand sanitizer stations set up at the shelter's entrances.

"Now our challenge will be keeping hand sanitizer available, as it's so limited and our resources are becoming scarce," Williams says.

If someone having symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough, shortness of breath — shows up at the shelter, Williams says they are referred to a hospital or El Paso County Public Health.

"The challenge is that we do serve a vulnerable population, and many of them are struggling with health issues," Williams says. "Today, we're doing our best to be as aware as we possibly can to anybody who is having any kind of symptoms or illness or fever."

But that's not always easy, as SRM doesn't currently have thermometer scanners, which would be a "helpful resource," Williams says. Staff members have to determine whether someone has a fever based on their appearance and answers to questions.

"We have posters put up throughout the campus telling folks of the symptoms of coronavirus and encouraging them to cough into their elbow and keep as best spatial distance as possible," Williams also points out. "We're encouraging guests to sleep alternating from head to foot, foot to head, so that there's more spatial distance between individuals."

Springs Rescue Mission has postponed all group gatherings and events until after March 31 and has closed its donation dock. Nonessential staff are working remotely.

The shelter is also considering quarantine options for people showing symptoms, Williams says.

Overall, Williams says, the mood at the shelter has stayed relatively calm.

"For many of the folks who are on the campus," he says, "they've fought traumas that, at least to them, feel more real than this."

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