Homeless shelters adjust to COVID-19 guidelines in order to stay open
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- Perhaps more than ever, Maritimers are using their imaginations and ingenuity to comply with the new rules of physical-distancing.
That's especially true for groups that serve the neediest in our communities, including people who can’t self-isolate at home, because they don’t have a home, like the clients at Romero House in Saint John.
There, clients now have to keep their distance from the take-out window until they grab the bags of food left for them.
In recent days, the soup kitchen is seeing more people at the window.
"It's very, very busy," said Evelyn McNulty of Romero House. "We're seeing new faces every day. A lot of people are talking about being laid off, and really uncertain about what the future holds for them."
Other agencies have been forced to move. Earlier this month, residents of the men's shelter complained of being stuck on the street during the day.
"Library is closed," said shelter resident Brent Stacey. "Market Square, Brunswick Square, it's all closed. So, if you don't got a home, don't got a friend, this is it right here."
To resolve that issue this week, the Outflow men's shelter has completed a move to the nearby Boys and Girls Club, where it will be open 24 hours a day.
Inside, there will be space for physical-distancing between residents, and for a Plexiglas shield between cots as well.
"We've never had to think about distance between clients before, whether at our community suppers or at our shelter and what this is doing is making us think about those types of things," said Tony Dickenson of the Outflow men's shelter.
A similar move was recently made in Fredericton, where the shelter is now located inside Fredericton High School.
In a first, the Outflow shelter is also teaming up with a neighbour. The Salvation Army is providing meals for shelter residents and for others using the mobile response unit.
"They line up accordingly and it's a very fast process," said Maj. Orest Goyak of the Salvation Army. "Within a half hour, we can feed 100 folks. They grab their meal and they're gone."
Community groups say COVID-19 is forcing everyone to re-evaluate how they do business.
"We're very excited by how things have worked," Dickenson said. "This is a very stressful time for everybody, but we've actually seen a lot of little bits of hope throughout that."
A lot of the agencies that work in the uptown area of Saint John are pooling their resources and thinking of new ways to do the job, to feed people and to provide shelter, at a time when demand is growing by the day.