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Local missions adopt new procedures over virus

Many people are lucky enough to have a home to self-isolate in, but for those who utilize the local rescue missions, it’s not that easy. Those who rely on the missions for their basic needs — as well as those who work there — are constantly at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Research shows people experiencing homelessness are at an increased risk of respiratory illness because of the high prevalence of underlying chronic health conditions, poor ventilation and crowding in shelters, and limited access to health care.

These underlying conditions increase risks of contracting the novel coronavirus, according to guidance from the CDC.

The heightened vulnerability of residents, limited access to health care, shuffle of people in and out of a shelter and proximity to others inside can make for rapid transmission of the virus.

The missions here in the Valley have adopted new procedures for screening people in need as well as how they operate daily.

NEW PROCEDURES IN WARREN

“We’ve implemented a protocol for those who are coughing or showing other symptoms. We take them to the hospital,” Pastor Chris Gilger with the Warren Family Mission said. “We take everyone’s temperature three times a day.”

Gilger added for to-go meals, the food is placed in the trunk of people’s cars to avoid any person-to-person contact, and barriers were put up for the the hot meal lines to ensure that people were standing the recommended 6 feet apart.

“Since the quarantine, our hot meals have jumped from 250 to 750 a day. We had to put barriers up, we have security and we spray-painted the parking lot to make sure people were six feet apart,” Gilger said. The National Guard also has been helping with the lines and for the past week, it helped give away food baskets to the more than 800 cars that came through for meals.

In addition to limiting the programs normally offered at the mission, Gilger laid off four staff members to keep them safe, so he is running the mission almost completely on his own.

At the Warren Family Mission, space still is available for men in their west side location, but it does not have room for women and children as Hanna’s House is full and completely quarantined and the Elm Road location has been closed for renovations. Luckily, Gilger knows of some places that will accept new people.

“I can drive people to get them where they need need to go,” Gilger said.

RESCUE MISSION MAKES CHANGES

John Muckridge of the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley said it is sticking to its mission despite the challenges COVID-19 brings.

“Our staff’s No. 1 focus is to stay on mission. It’s threefold. Our primary focus is to proclaim the Gospel to everyone who walks through our doors. We’re all a mess, and we need forgiveness. Second, we promote accountability. The majority of those served have made a choice that led to their homelessness. And third, we provide food and emergency shelter,” Muckridge said.

The changes made at the Rescue Mission in Youngstown include eliminating visitors, all meals are to-go and it added a two-step process for those seeking shelter.

“They are interviewed to identify their current housing situation, if they are really in need of emergency shelter, and if they are experiencing symptoms,” Muckridge said. “Then we take their temperature, and if it’s below the CDC-recommended 100.4 degrees, we proceed with the normal intake process.”

The mission lowered its capacity from 134 to 80 to allow residents to spread out, and a section of the building is used as a quarantine for those with symptoms.

“When we made this change, we had 72 staying with us, so no one needed to leave. We are currently at 78,” Muckridge said Friday.

Normally for the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, the length of stay is determined by what program the resident is in.

“We are relaxing the program expectations, but what we aren’t relaxing is the drug and alcohol use expectation. Folks are able to stay longer if they are meeting the drug and alcohol policy,” Muckridge said.

For the people who were able to find shelter with the missions, the length of stay requirements have been relaxed to allow more people to comply with Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order.

The total number of homeless Ohioans is tough to pin down. Federal data, measured via a one-night count, estimated the state’s homeless population at 10,345 in 2019. State data, however, found about 70,000 Ohioans accessed services provided for homeless people in 2017.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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