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Homeless shelters juggle cold weather and coronavirus precautions

Keeping people safe from both the cold, and the virus
Homeless shelters juggle cold weather and coronavirus precautions
Posted at 6:59 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 21:05:02-04

SOUTHERN COLORADO — Coronavirus has already given homeless shelters enough to worry about, but with a freeze expected overnight, they have a lot on their plate. They now have to find a balance between bringing people in off the street, and protecting them from COVID-19.

Springs Rescue Mission said they typically see their record numbers when it gets cold. "We did not expect this. We've already been having such a battle with COVID-19 over these last few months, and now to have this weather roll in, frankly it caught us by surprise," said Travis Williams, the chief development officer at Springs Rescue Mission.

They have the capacity to house 450 people. Williams said it is difficult to enforce both social distancing and wearing a mask, even though they provide a mask for people. "What's harder: having somebody out in the freezing temperatures, or keeping them protected from COVID-19? We're trying to do both," said Williams.

If temperatures continue to drop, Williams said they have facilities they can open to help give more space. Plus, they do health screenings on people at the shelter, and refer symptomatic people to an isolation shelter or the appropriate health provider. "We don't have really the opportunity or flexibility to turn too many people away. Our teams are having to make just harder, more courageous decisions, in order to make sure that the most people can be taken care of," said Williams.

Plus, he said they are also trying to space people out while sleeping. "We've encouraged folks to sleep head to foot, foot to head, to create as much spacial distancing as possible," said Williams.

Meanwhile, the Pueblo Rescue Mission has the capacity for 97 people. "We have plenty of people already staying here. We're nearly at capacity almost all the time, whether it's hot or cold," said Kathy Cline, the executive director of the Pueblo Rescue Mission.

They also perform health screenings, and mandate that masks are worn. All people there must have been in Pueblo for 30 days prior. "We have a couple of people that I know are very vulnerable that we may end up putting on a cot tonight. That's not our usual practice, but sometimes you just have to bend the rules," said Cline.

Cline also said the Pueblo Rescue Mission will be holding a drive starting next week, where they will collect blankets, coats, sleeping bags, hats, and anything else that helps keep someone warm. They will store those, and give them out when winter arrives.

Neither shelter has had any reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.