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COVINGTON, Ky. — The Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington transformed into a makeshift homeless shelter over the weekend, offering a place to stay for people who would otherwise be living on the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has been a true community effort,” said Danielle Amrine, executive director of Welcome House Northern Kentucky. “It’s a scary time, but it’s also a very inspiring time to see everyone pulling together.”
The convention center began sheltering people Saturday night, she said. It will remain staffed around the clock and accept up to 65 guests at a time.
Amrine had already counted 60 by Monday afternoon; she said she expected it to be full up by nightfall.
Kim Webb, executive director of the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, said she suggested the idea of repurposing the space after reading an article about a community in Oregon that was using its convention center for shelter.
Webb's shelter usually keeps its winter shelter open until March 31 but closed on March 13 this year because the facility didn't have a way for people to stay safely apart from each other, she said.
"The Northern Kentucky Convention Center has been fantastic," she said. "It allows us to follow the guidelines and then some."
The men and women staying at the convention center get three meals per day and medical attention on-site, Amrine added. Nurses took people’s temperatures before they entered the convention center Saturday and are checking temperatures every four hours.
There also is an isolation area for anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, but Amrine said that nobody had needed it yet.
People who are not exhibiting symptoms are sleeping on cots in areas that are 100 square feet large so that everyone can maintain the proper social distancing from each other, Amrine said.
The goal is to keep the entire community safer.
"Right now with the libraries closed, with restaurants closed, our population is more transient, so they're more likely to pick it up, but they're also more likely to spread it," she said. "They don't even have a place where they can go use the bathroom. Offering this place and allowing this population to have an opportunity to shelter in place gives them the opportunity to not spread it but also keep themselves safe."
Employees from Welcome House and the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky are staffing the shelter, she said. Organizations including Be Concerned, Parish Kitchen, Fairhaven Rescue Mission and PeeWee’s Place are providing the meals.
Amrine said the plan is to keep the shelter in place for the next two weeks to “flatten the curve."
The shelter was set up in just three hours Saturday night as temperatures dipped below freezing.
The shelter can't take any new guests at this point, and the people there will be sheltering in place whether they have symptoms or not, Webb said.
The people staying at the convention center are grateful to have shelter and bathrooms they can use, she said.
"Just these simple things give them some dignity and help them feel like a part of the larger community," Webb said.
The convention center shelter is not taking donations of clothing or other items at this time, Webb said. People who want to help can make financial donations to help pay for food and staff time to Welcome House Northern Kentucky, the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky or any of the other nonprofits helping with the effort, she said.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO online and on air. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.