Jesse Jaeger, Director of Development & Advocacy
Missoula, MT – 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,” Amy Allison Thompson, Executive Director of the Poverello Center, said. “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 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: Our next goal will be to reduce our capacity for the shelter to allow for appropriate social distancing. As the first step in this process, the Poverello Center is closing the building to most guests between 8:00 AM and 6:30 PM (subject to change) during non-meal times. Limited numbers of guests will be allowed to stay in the building to access daytime services such as the bathroom, showers and mail. The COVID-19 COAD Homelessness Task Force is working on further protocols to de-intensify the shelter.
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,” Allison Thompson said. “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.”