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

Letter from the Executive Director

Executive Director Sandra Ramsey

Dear Friends:

Another year has flown by and the staff at Cornerstone have had a front row seat to so many victories and successes! We get to witness the relief on people’s faces when they finally secure keys to their home once again, or for some, for the first time ever. We experience firsthand the joy of someone getting a job because they know that is a major step in securing their housing. Being able to secure birth certificates and IDs helps each person feel like they exist and are important in this world.

We witness the strength and tenacity of our residents time and time again and wonder how we would do if we were experiencing homelessness ourselves. We look forward to this year of 2017 with even higher hopes and greater anticipation of the many families and individuals we will meet, hearing their stories, and helping them move forward with their goals.

Our mission at CCO is to help people recover from the hardships of homelessness with dignity while helping them restore their God-given worth and self-esteem.

Sincerely,

Sandra Ramsey

2016 Marathon Album! Get Inspired!

Commitment, motivation, and inspiration are just a few of the words that describe  Team CCO at this year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon! Every member of the team “wowed” us with their commitment to crossing the finish line. They motivated us to support homeless services and inspired us to give! We want to extend our deepest thanks to each member of the team who endured 26.2 miles to help families and individuals who are sheltered at CCO. Every step you took brought someone closer to permanent housing.  You have truly inspired us!

We also want to thank the support team who cheered everyone on at the Charity Block Tent. Your encouragement kept the team on the road to the finish line!

Are you inspired? Registration for the 2017 Chicago Marathon is open from October 25 – November 29, 2016. Contact Andrew at teamcco@ccolife.org or visit the Team CCO page to request more information. Not a runner? It’s not too late to give to the team that supports those sheltered at CCO. Visit the Team CCO CrowdRise page by clicking here.

Click the album below to view the Team CCO 2016 Marathon photo album.

 

46th Ward Award for Best Non-Profit!

46 Ward Awards

CCO would like to say a huge “Thank You!” to everyone who voted for us to receive the 2015 46th Ward Award for Best Non-Profit. CCO received the award, presented by Alderman James Cappellman, earlier this week at the Uptown Underground.

Andrew Winter, CCO’s Chief Financial Officer was there to accept the award and say thank you on behalf of Cornerstone. Here is a copy of Andrew’s speech:

On behalf of Cornerstone Community Outreach, Sandy Ramsey our Executive Director, and all the staff who diligently work to make Cornerstone great, I’d like to thank the residents of our ward for choosing Cornerstone Community Outreach as Best Non-Profit. With your support, homeless families and individuals are receiving quality care and interim housing, and getting permanently housed. Someone who is homeless is in a very complicated time of their life, and we hope to understand each persons needs and meet them accordingly.I’d also like to thank all the non-profits and organizations, that collaborate in our ward and throughout the city, to meet the needs of those seeking assistance in our ward. Thank you, Chicago Department of Family Support Services for your work in coordinating these efforts, and also to Alderman Cappellman. If you would like to know more about Cornerstone, or make a wonderful donation, please feel free to talk to me!

Again, thank you very much!

 

20 Below Wind Chills – CCO’s Response

CCO Warming Center

“King” escaping deadly cold and welcomed into CCO Warming Center.

CCO’s Extreme Cold Search & Rescue

“Thank you for bringing me in. If you hadn’t, I think my hands would have gotten frostbite.”

-“King”
The cold weather is inconvenient for us all but for homeless people, especially those living outside, it can be deadly. Each winter CCO responds to the cold weather by welcoming our friends on the street into a warm, dry space. Sandy Ramsey, CCO Executive Director, and Jeremy Nicholls, CCO Outreach Worker, searches the local viaducts, loading docks, and under passes to bring in those living outside in dangerous weather. Many are rescued from the frigid conditions by these late night search and rescue operations.

CCO Outreach

CCO Outreach Working encouraging someone to come in from the cold.

CCO Outreach

CCO Outreach Worker asking someone to come into the Warming Center.

CCO Outreach

One of several people who came into the Warming Center at CCO during the deadly cold.

Evening runs are a part of CCO life. Click here to read about Driving Through the Blowing Snow.

Enjoying Christmas Dinner at CCO!

Christmas Dinner - Post

CCO staff member, Chris Ramsey, shared a delicious Christmas dinner in the CCO dining room with Tom, a long-time friend and neighbor. The kitchen lovingly prepared ham, sweet potatoes, beans, and cranberry sauce. Tom has been a part of CCO’s Dinner Guest and Food Pantry program for years.

Homeless to Housed : Elizabeth’s Story

 

I found a sweatshirt that says, “Cornerstone University.”  I said, “I’m going to graduate from this school with honors!”

I found a sweatshirt that says, “Cornerstone University.” I said, “I’m going to graduate from this school with honors!”

Homelessness does not discriminate between genders, ages, ethnicities, levels of education, or other demographics. At CCO, it has been our privilege to shelter newborns with their families, elderly persons, people with developmental disabilities, those with master’s degrees, adults who have worked full-time their entire lives and some with no work history at all. Anyone can become homeless.
Elizabeth’s story challenges the norms of who we believe can become homeless in America. It breaks down the fences that divide the “haves” and the “have nots”.
“My father was a very hardworking man. He owned a construction company and he instilled a strong work ethic in me. Growing up I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have what we needed.
After getting my master’s degree in finance, I worked full-time as a financial advisor in the Loop. My husband, Doug, was a stock analyst who worked at the Chicago Board of Trade. I have memories of being downtown at work and homeless people would ask me for change. I wasn’t thinking about the person in front of me. I was thinking about what I was going to have for lunch, who was going to pick-up the dry cleaning, and when I had to be at my next meeting.
I had always lived in the Chicago suburbs. My husband and I had a beautiful home with our sweet daughter. We often had barbeques with neighbors. That’s the sort of life we lived.
After 15 years of building our lives together and of living the American Dream, my husband Doug suddenly and tragically lost his life. We had had a good marriage. We had higher education and great jobs. I couldn’t have stopped what happened to Doug, but for some reason I blamed myself. The loss was unbelievable and shocking. I felt a part of me died with him.
At the funeral someone gave me a drink and I remember feeling numb. That’s what I wanted to feel. Heavy with grief, I just wanted to feel nothing at all.
I quickly became a functioning alcoholic. These were very dark times. I remember going to an AA meeting. A woman was talking about her husband. She said that he was dying and she was so depressed she couldn’t stop drinking. Her story spoke to me and that’s when I realized I needed help. She’s my sponsor to this day and we are very close. I also got intensive residential treatment. It was unbelievably hard physically and emotionally, but I stuck with it. The 12 steps are an important part of my life. People say it’s about making amends and forgiving others, but I think it’s mostly about forgiving yourself.
In 2008, the recession hit and my company lost 30% of our clients. In 2009, the company closed. I was unemployed and the money was running out. I sold my house and moved to Chicago. I wanted to make sure that my daughter had money for her education. That was very important to me. My unemployment eventually ran out and I began to sell everything I had in storage: furniture, household items, everything.
I was frantically looking for work all over the city. Employers kept saying, “You’re overqualified. We can’t pay you what you’re worth.” I just wanted to work. I believe part of the problem was my age. I just kept being rejected and turned away. And I didn’t have anything left to sell and I became homeless.
I found shelter at CCO’s Naomi House program for single women. The staff made me feel welcome and showed me around, but those first few days and nights were tough. I couldn’t believe I was in a shelter. I felt like the biggest failure. I had gone from full-time employment with a home in the suburbs to homelessness. I had never been homeless before. I was scared and I just wanted to hide but I couldn’t. I started to send out 50 resumes a day. I used every computer I could get my hands on.
I was working hard to keep my hopes up and attending AA meetings. CCO has a Free Store where residents and neighbors can “shop” for necessary clothes and household items. One day I was searching the Free Store for cold weather clothes and I found a sweatshirt that says, “Cornerstone University.” I ran downstairs to the Naomi House office and showed it to staff and said, “I’m going to graduate from this school with honors!” Everyone believed me and we had a good laugh!
Soon after that, Sandy Ramsey, CCO’s Executive Director, called me into her office. I couldn’t figure out what I was getting in trouble for. Instead of getting in trouble she offered me an employment position at CCO. I was so surprised!
Now, I am working in the Naomi House program that I had lived in myself. I work as an evening and night staff person. Women living in Naomi House have a lot of needs. When I’m at work, I feel like I’m a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a referee, an officer, a financial advisor, you name it!
I really feel like CCO saved my life. Not just because I got shelter when I was homeless, but because I was given hope, purpose, and employment, too.”
-Elizabeth Hartline, as told to Beth Nicholls

Our Executive Director

Together Mosaic

CCO has a long history of women in leadership. Sandy Ramsey has led our organization for nearly 30 years. Recently, Sandy captured the philosophy and hope that CCO tries to bring to all its programs and services.
“We assist people and work with them as they recover from the hardships of homelessness while helping them restore their God given-worth and self-esteem.”

Restoration at CCO

CBRE & Rebuilding Together

Mary Davenport, CCO Case work Supervisor, writes beautifully about the restoration efforts of two very special volunteer groups, CBRE and Rebuilding Together. She expresses the impact their efforts had on our shelter residents and herself. Take a moment to read this interesting peek into CCO life…

     Today 200+ volunteers came and brought much needed visual hope to my shelter. Fresh paint gives people a new reason not to mark on the walls. 2 new hang out spaces give our kids a place, other than the one room they share with their family, to just be. New flowers tell our neighborhood that we care enough to make the outside welcoming to the eye. A redone play area gives our kids fun in the summer. 200+ people came and worked hard to show our residents that they are valuable. Each volunteer was excited to help. Each and everyone one of them gave me new excitement and reminding me that others care too. The volunteers don’t have any personal stake in the day to day lives of our shelter residents. They will probably never see any of them again. They didn’t get to witness the very first kid come home from school and light up with excitement at the new space filled with books and brightly colored walls made especially for him. I will see the kids use those spaces. I will hear the residents say how much better it looks. I will bare witness to the benefits of the hard work done by others. This is where my restoration came from today.

     While all of this was happening, I got a phone call from a former resident. Her husband has become addicted to heroin. She finally had to leave him and take their young child to a safe place. She’s almost broke and family can only help so much. She called to see if we had shelter space for her family and to be encouraged. As we spoke, I said what I always say, “Put your child first and it will be alright”. They are such simple words to me. I say them so often I feel like I’m on auto pilot. She broke down on the phone. She felt so guilty that she had walked away from her husband to save her son. The words reminded her of what she already knew, the most right thing is to always put her child first.

     As my day came to a close I was leaving my office. I saw a brand new resident and introduce myself. We started to chat and he laid it all out. He’s scared. He doesn’t know how he even ended up here with his only child. I could see the fear in his eyes and I could hear it in his voice. He kept saying, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful or seem too good to be here.” He told me he didn’t want his son to stay at the shelter. His child’s mother is new to sobriety and he is considering letting his son return to living with her full time. He wants to keep his son with him. He wanted me to tell him what the right thing to do is. I heard the words coming out of my mouth again. “Put your child first and it will be alright”. He lost it. I could see the worry leave him. Visually he seemed lighter. Those words didn’t change his situation. They simply reminded him of what he already knew, the most right thing is to always put his child first. This is where my restoration came from today.

– Mary Davenport, Sylvia Center Program Director

A Letter From The Director

CCO logo Dear Friend,

This past year, 2013, has been filled with many adventures. Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) has been privileged to walk with many families and individuals as they pass through a very difficult time in their life. By the time they reach our doorstep, the majority of our shelter guests have lost everything. Unfortunately, some have suffered more loss than you and I can imagine and homelessness is just one more thing on their plate.

We are committed to partnering with our shelter guests through this time by assisting them in stabilizing their finances, housing, and ultimately their lives. It has been an honor to help those who come through our doors. It is an experience that we would not trade and we look forward to another year of serving those who are less fortunate.

Our mission at CCO is to help people recover from the hardships of homelessness with dignity while helping them restore their God-given worth and self-esteem.

In 2013, over 170 people moved into permanent housing from one of CCO’s shelter programs or through street outreach. It is always a joy to see former residents proudly showing off their new apartment keys!

Every donation helps bring our homeless families and individuals one step closer to stability and permanent housing. Will you consider donating today?

– Sandra Ramsey

Executive Director, Cornerstone Community Outreach

“Addressing Homelessness, Providing Shelter, Accepting People,

FINDING HOME.”