HomewardBound offers a home for the holidaysNov 23, 2020 03:27PM ● By Cloie Sandlin, with additional reporting by Jan Weeks
If we’re safer at home, what happens when you don’t have a home to call your own?
Most metrics on the COVID dial pose difficulties for those experiencing homelessness, especially when support providers such as shelters and food banks are offered in a congregate setting. Because many homeless individuals are older or have underlying medical conditions, they’re also at increased risk of experiencing the virus’ more serious effects.
As virus positivity rates skyrocket on the Western Slope, service providers like HomewardBound have been working diligently to adapt to the needs of the homeless, especially as cold weather sets in.
“Typically, the number of people coming to us for services and shelter goes up quite a bit as the months get colder and people move inside,” said Jesse Redmond, development director at HomewardBound in Grand Junction.
But, during a pandemic, living in shelters makes it challenging for guests to comply with social distancing. In fact, living with numerous strangers indoors could facilitate the spread of infection.
Despite HomewardBound’s preventive measures—such as spacing out beds, limiting out-of-town guests, and conducting temperature checks for guests and staff—the not-for-profit shelter has reported numerous positive cases since their first discovered case in early November. To prevent further spread, individuals who test positive are being quarantined off site.
“We’re requiring all adult guests to be wearing masks, which is something we were trying to avoid before because this is their home. It’s like asking someone to wear a mask 24/7,” said Redmond. “But we’re enforcing that when we need to. We want to keep everyone safe.”
Because of the public health crisis, organizations working with the homeless face the question: Where do guests go? Especially as temperatures continue to drop.
“We could really be looking at a problem of a couple hundred people out on the street that could be spreading COVID,” said Redmond.
The virus disrupts HomewardBound’s low-barrier model, which ensures that the community’s homeless can receive the help they need. Following public health orders, the organization is limiting the number of people allowed at the shelter, and can’t accept new individuals until more testing resources become available.
“It’s a difficult position to be in,” said Redmond. “A lot of our guests are coming from some previous form of trauma and we always have to keep in mind what we’re doing that might re-traumatize them. In the worst-case scenario, this can lead them to completely disconnecting from services.”
While much is out of their hands, HomewardBound and other partners in the community are committed to supporting the homeless by helping them acquire emergency shelter and food.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help those people,” said Redmond. “We’re lucky to have community partners—everybody in the homeless community who’s really putting in an effort to help navigate this. We definitely can’t do this alone.”
HomewardBound staff are also working to reduce food insecurity—another rampant issue among the homeless, as well as those who have a home but no kitchen or money for food.
HomewardBound’s culinary director, Chef Daryl, a former guest, works in the kitchen to plan hot breakfasts, dinners and sack lunches to give to outside individuals as well as to overnight guests, thanks to community donations.
“Food banks and individuals donate supplies,” said Redmond. “Last year, the shelter served over 22,000 ‘rescue meals’ made with food that’s almost out of date, but still healthy.”
Homelessness among seniors
Before the pandemic, Redmond reported that roughly one-third of people receiving services through HomewardBound were over the age of 50. While some of these individuals have faced homelessness off and on for years, for many others it’s a new, unexpected chapter.
Reasons for late-life homelessness vary from sudden loss of employment to having insufficient retirement plans or encountering health issues that drain retirement savings.
“Others, especially veterans, have just never been able to reconnect with the system,” added Redmond. “A lot of individuals have just been forgotten.”
According to the New York Times, the number of elderly homeless Americans is projected to triple over the next decade—and that was before COVID-19 hit, stretching what remains of the social safety net to the breaking point.
“The holidays are going to look a whole lot different this year,” said Redmond. “We’re operating in a whole new way and trying to figure out how to sustain that.”
Charity begins at home. Here's how you can help.
• Help HomewardBound continue their life-saving programs by making a monetary donation at www.homewardboundgv.org/donate. Call the shelter at 256-9424 or follow them on Facebook for an updated list of needed hygiene and food items.
• Abraham Connection provides emergency shelter to homeless individuals in Delta County and the surrounding areas. To donate, call 773-8290 or visit www.deltaabrahamconnection.org.
• Food Bank of the Rockies reports seeing an entirely new level of food insecurity in Western Slope communities since the pandemic started. This nonprofit is serving many people who’ve lost their jobs and are facing food insecurity for the first time, as well as already-vulnerable families who have found themselves in dire need. To donate, call 464-1138 or visit www.foodbankrockies.org.
• Sharing Ministries Food Bank serves Montrose and surrounding communities by providing supplemental food to families and other nonprofit organizations serving children and seniors. Donate by calling 240-8385 or visit www.sharingministries.com