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Homeless shelters adjust in light of coronavirus concerns


A local homeless shelter is serving more people while also dealing with fewer volunteers and donations due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Open Door Mission Executive Director Anna Valeria-Iseman said there has been a steep decline in both over the last few weeks. 

In order to keep every guest in this already at-risk population healthy, Iseman said they have to take a vigilant approach.

“We’re doing everything we can to maintain social distancing, but certainly in a filled and somewhat over-capacity shelter, that’s very, very difficult,” said Iseman. “We are operating under the assumption of 100% exposure, that everyone who comes in the building has been exposed to this. And so we are screening every person that comes into our building.”

Since the shelter is considered essential, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders limiting who can work don’t apply to it.

More than 50 people stay there on any one night. In recent weeks, Iseman said they’ve topped 70 people. That’s one reason why she said the Open Door Mission is operating as if everyone who comes into the buildings has been exposed to coronavirus.

That means more intensive screenings for guests, including temperature and symptom checks. They’re also preparing to help people who may be showing signs of the illness.

“In the event that someone is symptomatic,” said Iseman, “we do have a quarantine space in each and every one of our buildings." 

Iseman says she’s looking for rooms where they can put people in case their symptoms get worse and a doctor tells them to self-isolate at home.

St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality is also adapting its services to address coronavirus concerns.

Jasmin Reggler is the house coordinator at the South Avenue shelter. She said St. Joe’s typically opens its doors to hundreds of people a day for a shower and meals. But Reggler said the coronavirus outbreak forced St. Joe's to streamline operations, and they’ll only serve brown-bag lunches outside for the foreseeable future.

“We may be putting people more at risk if we do open our doors because of how many people do come and because they’re in very close quarters with each other,” Reggler said.

But she said they plan to maintain the emergency housing program. She said St. Joe houses 10 people overnight at a time, and they plan to keep housing them with some precautions. They plan to offer temperature checks and clean all public areas more than ever.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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