Heat & pandemic making homeless shelter operations increasingly difficult

Huntsville

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Intense heat across Alabama has led homeless shelters, like the Salvation Army, to keep their doors open all day. That means more food and staff are needed. Those issues also become harder to manage in the face of the pandemic

Imagine staying somewhere that has a COVID-19 outbreak. Your options are quarantine where the outbreak is, likely getting COVID-19 yourself. Or you can leave and have to sleep on the streets. That’s a choice many homeless people with health disabilities are facing every day.

“We are going to allow them the opportunity to quarantine and get well within our own facility like they would in their own home,” said Chris Bryant, a Huntsville Salvation Army Corps Officer.

Bryant says at times they’ve turned their entire Seminole location into a quarantine zone after their four designated quarantine spaces filled up. Not all COVID-19 positive visitors stay at the shelter either, potentially spreading the virus wherever they go.

“Because of the nature of communal living, it has grown and made a larger population directly exposed,” said Bryant.

Staffing the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter is getting harder as the need for shelter and support increases. Volunteers and their families are weighing the risks.

“A lot of our volunteers, especially weekday volunteers, are in that vulnerable category because they are elderly,” said Bryant.

One shelter resident told News 19 the stress the pandemic puts on her and her husband has set them back. So much so, she leaves her husband at the shelter because his health problems are better controlled indoors.

“I haven’t been tested. I don’t want to go inside because I don’t know if I have it to give it to somebody. And whoever just come in tonight randomly, we don’t know if they have it,” said the woman.

The Salvation Army does offer COVID-19 testing to residents. The logistics of taking residents to and from testing locations as well as feeding quarantined residents have also driven up operating costs.

“Maybe they would have been out having a meal somewhere else. That’s another meal we are going to provide. That requires staff to tend to them. Transportation costs are higher too,” Bryant.

The Salvation Army tries to enforce mask-wearing among shelter residents. Shelter management also says it’s becoming increasingly difficult to contact trace.

The Salvation Army says they are always looking for help be it in the form of money or volunteers.

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