A Letter to Shelter Providers

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Please visit your state or city Health Department website for information.

This letter is NOT meant to replace any CDC or Health Department information.

Dear Shelter Provider,

Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to offer you something that may help you protect your population. I am specifically thinking of shelters located in cities and states that have no plan in place yet. We’ve got to do everything we can for our shelter guests and staff. I believe you want to do that. Think of this as a questionnaire to establish your own plan and response rather than a set directive.

If you are working at a shelter you, your staff, and your shelter guests are on the front lines. Please consider this brief letter as a tool to think about your facility and your population during the COVID-19 crisis. We have taken drastic steps and I know you will to.

You may feel overwhelmed. I know I do. I am not a medical professional or expert but I have worked at a large homeless shelter in Chicago for over 30 years. Cornerstone Community Outreach has 4 shelter programs (families and singles) totally 330 people, a food pantry, free clothing store and many other services. Many shelters and service organizations are having to make hard decisions, scramble for resources, and implement changes in a time of crisis. Literally everything has changed in the last few weeks as we have tried to respond moment by moment in this crisis. You’re shelter facility and programs are different than mine. In light of that, it is important that you use CDC and Health Department recommendations and implement them for your own setting. I hope the questions and comments below help you in this difficult time.

Response to COVID-19 Symptoms-
Call your local Health Department and ask them what your process should be for someone who is living in a homeless shelter and displaying symptoms of COVID-19. If you are told to just send a shelter guest to the ER be sure that you call ahead so that the ER knows someone is coming who has symptoms. *It is very important that you let them know that the person arriving lives in a homeless shelter with many other people. This is so critical. Require discharge papers when the client is released with a negative test. If they have a positive test demand hospital quarantine. Absolutely demand hospital quarantine.
Make sure your staff are constantly surveying your population for symptoms and reporting to you. Cities and states are responding differently at this point so I don’t want to tell you our system in Chicago and you find that it is useless in your city. Research what you should do now and let your staff know so everyone going through the proper process.
If someone is having difficulty breathing call 911 immediately.

Three Critical Components-
Handwashing, Distancing and Disinfecting

Handwashing
Print and post handwashing guides in all your bathrooms. You can find them on the CDC or Health Department website. Repost them as needed. Remind staff and shelter guests frequently. Post additional signs telling everyone (staff, shelter guest, adult, child) to wash their hands before and after entering the program space, and other critical times such as meals and after using the bathroom facilities. Most of our shelters have common bathrooms which makes combating this virus an even greater challenge.

Disinfecting
Immediately establish protocol for increased disinfecting. Do you have janitorial staff or a maintenance team or person? Do you have the right products? If your supplies need to be mixed with water, are they being mixed with the correct ratio? If you have multiple janitors how can you stagger their schedules to allow for early/ late/ weekend/ disinfecting coverage? Who else can disinfect? Recruit them. Supply them. Think outside the box.

Make sure whoever is disinfecting wears a mask and gloves while they do the work.

If you have to, create a checklist of everything that needs to be disinfected and the frequency of disinfection. For example, all door push bars, doorknobs, light switches, faucets, toilets, surfaces, touch pads, all phone services, all computer keyboards, tables, chairs, stairway railings, basically every single thing a hand can touch. Make this into a checklist with set times and places include a date and initials for the person doing the work. Establish a place where these checklists are turned in. Ensure the work is getting done.

Distancing
Many of us provide shelter in open dorms with shared bathrooms and meals. We have to use all our creativity and resources to make people as safe as possible in this sort of setting. Post signs about distancing and remind everyone of its importance. The CDC states that 6 feet should be a minimum for social distancing. Do you have that kind of space? Can you request that some shelter guests move to another location which would allow for adequate space? Can your city officials or clergy help you access a vacant space that can be used temporarily for this purpose?

Single Open Dorm Shelter Space
How close are your shelter beds? Can they be moved 6 feet apart? Do you have a common area that beds can be spread out into? Can you ensure you still have a walkway for staff, fire safety, or health care professionals to get through? Can you put elderly and aging single shelter guests (60+) in an area that is further from your younger population while still allowing everyone to have beds 6 feet from each other? Can you do the same for medically vulnerable people who are under the age of 60? Do you have bunks? Can you make sure no one is on the top bunk? In a single shelter program, as much as you are able, stop having a person on the top bunk unless they are related. An individual should have a single bed or lower bunk that is at least 6 feet from the next bed. I know this is extremely challenging for many of our programs. The Health Department states that shelter guests should sleep head – to- toe.

Family Open Dorm Shelter Space
How close are your shelter beds? Do you have bunks? Do you have a common area that beds can be spread out into? Can you ensure you still have a walkway for staff, fire safety, or health care professionals to get through?
If necessary, nuclear families should have beds closer to one another while leaving a minimum of 6 feet between beds that are occupied by other families. If you cannot create 6 feet of space between beds, can you reach out to your city officials or clergy and ask for part of your population to be moved to a safe space were social distancing can take place? This feels drastic but remember it is not permanent. Work toward distancing. It’s critical.

Create a COVID-19 Response Team-
You will need a team. Be thoughtful. Who’s dedicated? Who are your action people? It’s important that you don’t feel alone or hesitate in implementing important next steps. You know your organization and your unique configuration. You may need more or less people on your team depending on your size. Create a team that works.

Who knows the shelter inside and out and will act? Shelter Team Coordinator
Who will tell everyone what needs to happen now? Internal Communications Coordinator
Who communicates with your city funders and coordinators? City Communication Coordinator
Who has your budget and manages your money? Financial Coordinator
Who is over the kitchen? Kitchen Disinfecting Coordinator
Who is your supplies person? Supply Coordinator
Who is over facilities/ janitorial team? Facilities/ Disinfecting Coordinator
Who is over shelter for singles? Single Shelter Coordinator
Who is over shelter for families? Family Shelter Coordinator

Communication-
How will your team communicate with each other and distribute information to your larger organization? Immediate information may need to go out via individual or group text. Use what works. Text, Google Chat, Slack, use tech options to speed communication and reduce human contact. Use a platform that works for you.

Immediately stop –
Guests
Visitors
Volunteers (I know that’s a tough one)
Donations of clothing and household items
Allow only police, medical staff, government employees dealing with child safety, your essential employees and shelter guests into your facilities.
Notify security personnel and reception staff. Post signs on your doors explaining that this is a temporary measure to protect the health of everyone.

Survey your staff-
Who is older? Who is medically vulnerable? Who is non-essential? Who can work from home? Give them the supplies to do that and send them home.
Think ahead. Who will you lose if bus and train service is stopped? Who will continue working? What roles can you reduce in order to fulfill other essential roles. For example, can one of your case managers work in the kitchen? Or in another shelter program that may be short staffed for the moment?
Tell your staff that they must stay home if they are sick. We are all afraid of having no staff but being responsible to send home sick staff is crucial to reducing illness.
Make sure that your employees have a letter of verification so that if they are stopped by law enforcement they can prove that they are an essential worker.

Meals/ Facilities –
Do your shelter guests eat in a shared dining room? Can you spread out the tables? How can you creatively make as much distance as possible in the space you have with the population you serve?
If you have several programs, eat in shifts.
Example,

  1. Disinfect all doors, tray racks, tray slides, sneeze guards, tables, chairs, and serving surfaces. 2. Allow one program in, allow them to eat.
  2. Have them return to their living area.
  3. Disinfect all doors, tray racks, tray slides, sneeze guards, tables, chairs, and serving surfaces. 5. Allow one program in, allow them to eat.
  4. Have them return to their living area.
  5. Disinfect all doors, tray racks, tray slides, sneeze guards, tables, chairs, and serving surfaces.
    You get the idea.
    Do you have individual rooms for your shelter guests? Thank God and make sure all meals are eaten in their rooms. Don’t think about the roaches or other non-deadly issues. Think about your clients and staff who are medically fragile.

Meals/ Service –
I suggest that each of your kitchen staff wear a disposable plastic apron, gloves, and a face masks At All Times in the kitchen. That includes meal preparation. This is critical. If you don’t have all of these items. Do the most that you can with what you have. Make sure your protocol is being followed even when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. The world has changed and we are changing with it.
All condiments, drinks, and cutlery are put on the tray.
No boxes of ketchup or bins of salt packets are left out for people to paw through. No.
Shelter guests pick up trays from the tray line. Hands do not touch.

Security-
Do you have a security guard or team? How can you enlist them? Can they be part of the disinfecting team for all outside doors and reception desks? Can they remind people to social distance? What unique need do you have that they may be able to help with while operations are at a minimum and visits, volunteers are eliminated?

Food pantry-
Immediately stop personal shopping and eliminate entry into your facilities.
Make up nutritious bags of groceries and distribute outside. Do not allow people in line to stand close to each other unless they are members of one household. Services continue, people are fed, everyone is safer.

Within shelter programs-
Immediately put signs at the entrances to all your program doors that EVERYONE (Staff, shelter guests, children, adults) must wash hands when they enter or exit the program. No exceptions. If you are blessed with hand sanitizer then set-up a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to the program. Make it mandatory.

Bathrooms-
Disinfecting must be extensive and on-going. First, who is cleaning the bathrooms, how often and with what supplies? What will work for your facility and population? How many sinks do you have? How many toilets? Do you have CDC, COVID-19 and proper hand washing signage in your bathrooms and in all areas of your facility? If not, do that immediately and make extra copies to replenish when they fall down.

Laundry service/ facilities-
Can you increase laundry service? If you have washers in your facility, lengthen laundry times. Think creatively so that your shelter guests can do laundry frequently.

Donors-
Donations that will help you during this global pandemic are critical but do not accept unsealed, non-essential items.
Can they supply you with hand sanitizer, soap, gloves, masks, tissue, toilet paper, etc.? Do they know restaurant suppliers? Do they have contacts that you haven’t tapped into? Can they do that work for you since they may be at home and you are not.

Case management-
Casework is difficult when the agencies you work with are closed. What can your case managers achieve in this crisis? Can they help in some of the areas we’ve already discussed? Can a healthy case manager be trained to do some other task at this time?
Case managers can join the disinfecting efforts, encourage shelter guests, de-escalate heightened emotions, etc.

Medical Consultant-
Do you have access to an educated, informed medical consultant? Can you contact them at any time of the day or night?

Mental Health Professional-
Do you have a mental health professional that can speak with your shelter guests? Ideally this would be someone who could speak on the phone with them.

I understand how troubling this time is for shelter providers. I hope this letter helps you in some way. We’re all human and we’re all afraid. We can do our best as we work alongside our shelter guests who don’t have the luxury to “stay at home.”

I am praying daily for your homeless shelter staff and guests. You aren’t alone.

Blessings,

Beth Nicholls,
Program Director,
Cornerstone Community Outreach
Chicago, Il

A few helpful links-

Illinois Department of Public Health Guidance for Homeless Shelters
http://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-a-z-list/coronavirus/preventing-spread-communities/homeless-shelters

Center for Disease Control Recommendations for Homeless Shelters
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/homeless-shelters/plan-prepare-respond.html

Printable Posters
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html

Chicago Bears Visit CCO!

Staff, volunteers, and shelter guests were privileged to welcome the Chicago Bears to CCO. The seven Bears who volunteered their time and energy, brought smiles, excitement, and joy to the families and individuals at those sheltered with us. We would like to say a huge thank you to Sam Acho, John Timu, De’Vante Bausby, Jimmy Staten, Mike Adams, Adrian Amos, and Dion Bush, who served a delicious dinner, signed autographs, and gave a word of encouragement. Thanks so much to the Chicago Bears! You’re welcome to come back anytime!

Special thanks to Sean T. McGill, who donated his time and outstanding photography skills so that all of us could enjoy such a memorable evening through his photos. View his other professional photography projects by clicking here. Thank you!

Homelessness to Olympic Gold

English GardnerCongratulations to English Gardner, who won a gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games in the women’s 4 x 100 meter relay. Gardner and her family experienced homelessness during her childhood. She has overcome injury, illness, and homelessness, and strives to become the fastest woman on earth. You are an inspiration to the children at CCO and other shelters across America. We’re proud of you English!

Team CCO Runner Interviewed by ABC7 News!

Ted Jindrich Interview

“I’m running for Cornerstone Community Outreach, it’s a homeless shelter for the city here and I help raise funds for them,” said runner Ted Jindrich.

Team CCO’s very own Ted Jindrich was interviewed by ABC7 News at the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle! Click the image to watch the video clip. Ted is not only a member of Team CCO, he is a long-time supporter and volunteer.

Click here to find out more about Team CCO, what 2016 fitness events are available to you, and how your run can make a difference in the lives of homeless families and individuals.

Ted Jindrich, planting flowers outside CCO.

Attorney General Says Stop Criminalizing Homeless

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“On Monday, the Attorney General issued a stern order to state court officials to stop, forthwith, targeting poor and homeless people and throwing them in jail for being too poor to pay fines for the crime of being too poor to have a place to live.

In the strongly worded letter to court chief justices and administrators, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta and Lisa Foster of the Office for Access to Justice leveled some harsh criticism against state judicial and law enforcement officials for arresting and jailing the poor as a revenue source. The letter said in part,

“In addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.”

To read the full length article click here.

 

National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

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This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The National Coalition for the Homeless created the week to help break down the myths and misinformation surrounding hunger and homelessness in America. Visit our Facebook page to see daily posts that focus on legislation and information about poverty in America and find out what you can do to help.

 

Ordinances that Criminalize…

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We want to applaud the Human Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for standing up against ordinances that criminalize homelessness. Attorney’s  for the Justice Department argued that homeless persons sleeping outside are having their 8th Amendment rights violated by ordinances against them.

“Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless,” the filing stated.
“Criminally prosecuting those individuals for something as innocent as sleeping, when they have no safe, legal place to go, violates their constitutional rights,” Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, said in a statement.

To read the entire court document click here.

To learn more the criminalization of food sharing and public sleeping from the National Coalition for the Homeless click here.

Homeless “GoPro” in San Fransisco

“Adam Reichart and his new found friends want you to walk a few miles in his homeless shoes. Virtually. Through a video camera strapped to his chest,” reports the San Francisco Gate.

Adam, a homeless man living on the streets in San Francisco has been outfitted with a video device to help people understand the hardships and challenges of being homeless. “As for these guys, anything that helps people understand the homeless, maybe see us more as real people, is a good thing,” Reichart said. “So I’m in.”

Click here to read the full article and view photographs of the project.

To view edited footage of Adam’s experiences go to Homeless GoPro.

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Help for Homeless Veterans

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“Veteran homelessness is down 24% since 2010,” according to the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights. “VA cannot do it alone. Organizations and individuals in communities across the country are integral to providing services to Veterans and spreading the word about the resources VA provides to end and prevent homelessness among Veterans.”

CCO is proud to network and collaborate with the US Veteran’s Administration. Every other week VA workers come on-site and meet with veterans regarding housing, benefits, medical and mental health services.This statement if from the US Department of Veterans Affairs website.

To learn more about the Veteran Administrations “Help for Homeless Veterans Campaign, click here.

Homelessness to Micro-housing

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The micro-cottage is 144 square feet — 8 by 18 feet. – New York Times image

 

Creative and compassionate minds work to end homelessness for 29 people in Washington State. This is the first time micro-housing and rental subsidies has come together to solve homelessness. Click here to the New York Times article.