The Pov’s Own Masked Heroes
Bright red decals dot the floor at six feet apart, marking a Pac-Man-esque dining line through the Pov’s lobby. Hand washing stations post up by either entrance of the emergency shelter, which is now open only overnight and in shifts during meal times. A shiny new sneeze guard sits atop the front desk, and behind it work the Pov’s very own masked superheroes.
The Poverello Center is an essential service in our community during this crisis, and its staff serves some of Missoula’s most at-risk neighbors. People who are experiencing homelessness are already in crisis, and are often elderly, have chronic health conditions, are living in communal living spaces and are very much in danger because of COVID-19. Poverello Staff is working extremely hard to keep our guests safe during this time of community crisis, and this issue of our newsletter is dedicated to them – to our very own essential workers who were on the front lines before being on the front lines was even cool 😉
This goes for both Direct Care Staff within the building, and our HOT Team, who continue to do outstanding work serving Missoula’s unsheltered individuals. We’re howling for you!
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“Stronger Together”: Agencies and Volunteers Give Hope to Missoula’s Unsheltered
Unsheltered homelessness has spiked since the arrival ofthe coronavirus in the Missoula community, and Missoulians have rolled up their shirt sleeves to assist some of their most vulnerable neighbors.
Missoula’s Coordinated Outreach Team, which has spearheaded efforts to assist people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, began almost two years ago and has become an indispensable network for organizing volunteer aid to the unsheltered throughout the current public health crisis.
“It’s been amazing being a part of the Coordinated Outreach Team,” April Seat, Director of Outreach at Hope Rescue Mission, said. “We’re stronger together, that’s for sure.”
The River of Life Church has also provided their generous support by making non-perishable sack lunches to distribute to campers, as keeping distance from the Pov also means a lack of access to the shelter’s meal services.
April, who through the coordinated effort works closely with the Pov’s Homeless Outreach Team, said she has enlisted the help of medical professionals, including a doctor who has been visiting the encampments twice a month – mostly screening for COVID – and a nurse, who goes out into the field three times a week.
“We worked to be able to screen an older gentleman out on reserve,” she said. “The nurse noticed his lungs were not working great and requested he go to hospital. He tested negative for COVID and actually had pneumonia. He was released, and he’s doing great now.”
April said that volunteers through the Hope Rescue Mission have primarily focused on the Reserve Street encampment, allowing the Pov’s HOT Team to address other areas of need, like downtown and Broadway Island.
“A lot of community members have stepped up and have been very helpful, and there have been a lot less HOT calls regarding nuisance behaviors,” Hannah Higgins, the HOT Team’s most senior member, said. “Rather than reporting problems, people have been calling to find out ways they can help out.”
April said she hopes that the volunteers are more than just a response to the crisis, and because she’s had so many people contact her wanting to help, she’s been sending them to help other organizations who, because of community coordination, she knows could really use a hand.
“To see this community come together, and the love they’re pouring out to the unsheltered – there’s a lot of stigma being broken, and there’s a growing awareness of housing as harm reduction,” she said.
In addition to addressing immediate survival needs (such as food, shelter, clothing and access to mental health services), the HOT Team’s efforts currently focus on providing accurate information related to COVID-19 in terms of access to medical services, screenings, and testing.
But as April puts it, especially throughout the pandemic, outreach work is much more than COVID education.
“We’re not just serving their basic needs,” she said. “The true commitment we have is a relationship with these folks. We have been able to help so many people because of that relationship.”
In addition to such generous acts of service and giving from the community, Hannah said the pandemic has provided opportunities for big-picture, systemic-level change. Community leaders have created new relationships to help provide a safety net for its most vulnerable individuals.
Missoulians have worked together to assemble the Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) Homelessness Task Force, in which the Missoula City-County Health Department, local service providers (such as the Pov, the YWCA and Missoula Interfaith Collaborative) and hospitals take an active, collaborative role in addressing the homelessness crisis.
“The pandemic has started a lot of conversations that weren’t as prominent as they were before – like housing as healthcare, for example,” Hannah said. “It has strengthened old partnerships and begun new ones.”
Missoula’s Outreach Teams are currently in need of tarps, tents and sleeping bags. Please bring any donations to the Poverello Center and call (406) 529-5643. We will meet you outside to collect your donation, as we are trying to limit the number of people coming into the building to protect our most vulnerable guests.
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Spotlight: Tim Stahl, Registered Nurse
When the announcement came that Partnership Health Center would be temporarily closing all satellite clinics, Tim Stahl, RN at the Partnership clinic at the Pov, said he didn’t want to go anywhere.
“It’s not really inspiring and I didn’t necessarily stay to do COVID screenings,” Tim said, regarding his decision to stay at Partnership’s Pov clinic rather than change locations or work from home. “The bigger issue for me is just having a presence there, seeing people I know, and doing the things I normally do.”
Tim initially stayed to provide primary care, which includes a lot of wound care and screening people for illnesses other than the novel coronavirus. In a perfect world, he said, the Pov would have a provider there all the time.
Partnership Health Center was initially discussing the closure of all satellite clinics in order to have providers do screenings at their main clinic, with a focus on telemedicine. In further talks, Partnership’s Executive Director Laurie Francis, supportive of having a presence at the Pov from the get-go, and the Pov’s Executive Director Amy Allison Thompson made the decision to have some kind of support at the Pov.
“Tim really allowed us to have the capacity to screen all our guests,” Amy said. “Without him we would not have been able to do this well. The Pov is also grateful to Partnership for the flexibility as we work together to best serve the health needs of people experiencing homelessness. We are lucky to have Tim and such a strong ongoing relationship with Partnership Health Clinic.”
COVID-19 screenings have quickly become a part of the Pov’s weekly routine. Twice a week, guests line up at the shelter’s in-house clinic and receive a wristband allowing them to stay after
they have been cleared.
“The big concern for me is that if someone gets COVID at the Poverello, it will be a situation in which a lot of people get COVID,” Tim, who has been working with Partnership for a little over 4 years, said. “The sooner you know if someone’s got it, the faster you can respond.”
At the time of writing, of the more than 150 guests screened, Tim said he felt only three of them needed to be tested. All three of those tests came back negative.
“Not a lot of people have needed testing so far. There have been three total,” he said. “People have been reasonably healthy.”
Tim says he’s not really concerned about getting coronavirus himself.
“I’m generally healthy, I’m a nonsmoker, I exercise,” he said. “We’re wearing masks and gloves and cleaning everything. I’m just not concerned about it.”
Tim’s message to our readers? “Stay healthy. Wash your hands.”
When not conducting screenings at Partnership’s Healthcare for the Homeless clinic, Tim practices physical distancing by remodeling his house. Tim has three children, and enjoys carpentry, general house work, and riding his bike with his wife.
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Utilizing Best Practices: A Letter from the Executive Director
As COVID-19 continues to spread in Missoula County, the Poverello Center is working closely with government and community partners to protect the health of people experiencing homelessness in our community.
The center of our mission here at the Poverello Center is to make sure that everyone has access to food and shelter if they need it. It is extremely challenging to make sure people in our community have access to our critical services while at the same time practicing the social distancing that will protect our staff and guests’ health. I am incredibly proud of the hard work and creativity that the Poverello Center staff show every day as they work to deliver our services as safely as possible.
People experiencing homelessness are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. They tend to be older, have compromised immune systems and live in communal settings. Homeless shelters across the country, like ours, have been working hard to adapt their protocols to make sure they can continue to deliver their essential and life-saving services, while at the same time protecting their clients’ health from COVID-19.
Utilizing the best practices that have emerged from other shelters across the country, in the past several weeks the Poverello Center has implemented the following actions:
- Homelessness Task Force: We have formed a COVID-19 COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster) Homelessness Task Force to respond to the current challenges and are working closely with the Health Department. The task force includes representatives from the Poverello Center, Partnership Health Center, YWCA, Hope Rescue Mission, Missoula Interfaith Collaborative, Missoula City/County Health Department, and Senator Tester’s Office.
- Guest Screenings: We have been doing screenings with our guests several times per week with Partnership Health Center for COVID symptoms. Once they have been screened and do not have symptoms requiring testing, they are given a wristband to wear. The color rotates so we know that they have been recently screened. If someone meets the criteria for testing, they are tested by Partnership Health Center and placed in Q/I at an off-site location by the Health Department.
- Cleaning Protocols: We are following CDC guidelines for cleaning and have implemented a daily deep clean protocol that involves cleaning our high traffic areas, bathrooms, and sleeping spaces, and then we apply a fine mist of diluted bleach solution with a sprayer.
- New Meal Protocols: We began a new mealtime protocol that involves limiting the number of guests in the dining room for mealtime, which will allow each guest to be 6 feet from another person. This will require folks to eat in shifts but will reduce the number of folks in the dining room at one time.
- Homeless Outreach: Shelter numbers have gone down as folks are feeling fearful of being in a congregate setting, which means more folks are sleeping unsheltered in our community. This shift will create many unintended consequences in our community and is requiring our Homeless Outreach Team to respond accordingly. We are working with our Coordinated Outreach Team to do targeted outreach and supply drops at this time.
- De-intensifying Shelter: We have reduced our capacity for the shelter to allow for appropriate social distancing. We are closing the building for periods of time during the day while allowing limited numbers of guests to stay in the building to access daytime services such as the bathroom, showers, and mail. We have also reduced our capacity for overnight shelter to 98 people so that every sleeping space is at least 6 feet away from each other. The COVID-19 COAD Homelessness Task Force is working on securing extra space for people experiencing homelessness to shelter in place.
Support from the Missoula community is critical at this time. The Poverello Center is seeing a significant increase in operating costs while dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These costs include purchasing specialized cleaning supplies, as well as an increase in overtime costs due to the need for staff to stay home if they are not feeling well.
The Poverello Center provides essential services in our community. Many Missoulians rely on the Pov for their basic needs like food and shelter. We are committed to making sure we continue to meet those needs throughout this crisis.
Thank you for your continued support,
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Thank You for Your Support!
The following individuals, local businesses and organizations have gone above and beyond to provide additional support to the Poverello, its guests, and our staff throughout this time of uncertainty and need. Some of them bought our hard-working staff a meal, others donated emergency funding, and others yet gave hours of their valuable time volunteering. To you all, we extend our heartfelt thanks!
Major ongoing supporters:
The Llewellyn Foundation
The Town Pump Foundation
Providence St. Patrick Hospital
The Wells Fargo Foundation
The Crocus Foundation
Organizations and Businesses:
University Congregational Church
River of Life Church
Knights of Columbus — Blessed Trinity
Elders Sanders and McCallum — LDS Missionaries
Advanced Technology Group
5 on Black
And all who have donated supplies!
We also give our deep gratitude to the Pov’s Resident Volunteers, who toil endlessly 7 days a week to help make sure our building is as safe and sanitary as possible. You are truly Champions of Hope!