As COVID-19 cases continue to grow and spread, not everyone has the ability to social distance from home. Cincinnati’s emergency winter shelter opened its doors for the first time this winter season, with special precautions in place due to the coronavirus.
“Men and women experiencing homelessness can now enter the winter shelter, but we’re learning that keeping them, members of the staff and volunteers all safe presents some real challenges,” Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky executive director Kim Webb said. “It’s a devastating blow knowing that someone’s life is at risk every time they’re outside.”
It’s a predicament that those who run some of the Tri-State’s largest shelters are facing heading into the coldest months.
"That meant shower curtains in the doors,” Webb said. “That meant not having a congregate meal area so that food was taken to the guests. When the guests came in the building, they were only allowed to leave their room if they were going to the shower, to the bathroom or for a smoke break."
The ability to use the space came at the right time, she said. A judge and jailer reached out about using buildings at the Campbell County Detention Center, which helps them create distanced dining and living quarters without leaving people in total isolation.
"The facility actually has the ability to have 64 people on each side,” Webb said. “Safely, we're doing 25 on each side and including some floor spots."
That’s not the case at every shelter in the area as capacity remains a key concern.
“We are hoping that we have enough space so that folks don’t spend the winter outside,” Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition executive director Josh Spring said.
He said sheltering people in the winter is always a challenge and doing so during the pandemic is taking a Herculean effort from the community – one they hope will save lives.
"Our shelter, our member organizations to our shelters, have really worked hard with us,” Spring said. “They are taking on endeavors that they've never done before, and they're doing it without knowing exactly how it will work out."
Webb said one of the biggest ways people can give back is to volunteer. They’ve seen fewer people willing to do so since the onset of the pandemic.