How COVID-19 is Affecting the City’s Services for the Homeless


Guests line up to enter Room In The Inn - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Guests line up to enter Room In The Inn

Organizations providing shelter and other services to homeless individuals in Memphis remain open, but are making changes to the way they serve amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

The Memphis Union Mission, the largest shelter provider in Memphis, remains open, but is taking precautions and preventive steps.

Mission officials said Monday that they are adhering to the recommendations of the Citygate Network's Toolkit for Managing Impact of Aerosol Transmissible Diseases sanitation, hygiene, and infection prevention practices.

Scott Bjork, President and CEO, said, “We are taking these precautionary measures knowing that our homeless clients may suffer from a variety of chronic and acute conditions that may affect their immune system response.”

If a client is identified during screenings as possibly having COVID-19, Mission staff will follow isolation protocols and communicate with the health department for the evaluation and care of the client

Bjork said the Mission is working with the health department and the Memphis Office of Emergency Management to monitor COVID-19’s impact in the city.

Room In The Inn, which places homeless individuals at churches across the city for the night and provides them with a meal and a place to sleep, and sometimes access to showers and clothes closets, remains open.

Lisa Anderson, executive director of Room In The Inn, said that it will continue to operate as long as “we have congregations that will host, which means it’s night-to-night for us.”

However, no new guests are being accepted at this time. So those who have not previously been a guest at Room In The Inn prior to this week aren’t able to receive services for now.

Anderson said the congregations that continue to host guests are taking extra cleaning precautions and ensuring that guests’ sleeping arrangements are spaced apart.

The Hospitality Hub, which is located Downtown Memphis and provides a range of services to homeless individuals, will be limiting its services until further notice.

On an average day, the Hub is visited by 125 people. Among other needs, the organization helps clients find housing and jobs, obtain a state ID or birth certificate, access a mailbox, apply for food stamps, and pay for health care. The Hub said last week that it is suspending its counseling services, but will continue its Work Local program, and keep access to mail and personal lockers open on a limited basis.

At St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, the weekly Wednesday morning community breakfast and clothes closet services, which is open to homeless individuals, will continue. Volunteers will serve guests with gloves and follow all guidelines from the health department, the church notes.

Though Calvary Episcopal Church will refrain from serving any other food, for the time being, it will continue to serve its weekly Sunday community breakfast to those in need, but will do so in disposable containers in the alley behind the church. The church began using this method this week and was still able to serve close to 150 individuals.

Two at a time, guests were allowed to go inside the church to use the restroom and visit the clothes closet.

However, Christine Todd, Calvary's community ministries coordinator said that the church is running low on hand sanitizer and will not be able to continue to serve without it. Church leaders will meet Tuesday to decide how to move forward. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released interim guidelines for homeless shelters last week amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

The CDC guidelines advised homeless shelters on how to prevent the spread of the virus before, during, and after the outbreak.

During the outbreak, the CDC said that shelters should limit visitors to their facility, ensure clients are sleeping at least six feet apart, provide clients with respiratory symptoms a face mask, and confine clients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to individual spaces or a designated room if possible.

The CDC has not made any recommendations that homeless shelters should close during the outbreak.

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