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Impact of COVID-19 on housing insecure

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The chapel at Guiding Light Ministries (courtesy photo).

By Allie Ouendag

Based on 2019 statistics, there are an estimated 757 homeless people in Kent County left vulnerable in the wake of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Despite limited spacing options as well as volunteer program cuts, local shelters are implementing new policies and encouraging donations to help support the Grand Rapids homeless community during the pandemic. 

The shelter in place order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week restricted normal public gathering places such as the library and restaurants and forced the local homeless population to find alternative places to go about daily life. As a result Mel Trotter Ministries has seen a large influx of guests at their day center. 

“We are seeing 370 people in our day center. That’s a hundred more people than usual,” said Sara Jeffries, the Communication Specialist for Mel Trotter Ministries. 

The shelter is adjusting policy as recommended by the CDC to decrease the risk of spreading the virus. This includes adjusting lines for food as well as switching kitchens to all single use packaging. The biggest challenge was rearranging an entire side of the center to accommodate the 6-foot spacing  rule where 250 to 350 men may be on any given day. 

To help the adjustment, Mel Trotter has produced a video to help inform guests of the new procedure. 

“We are playing a video that we took to help them understand that these are not Mel Trotters’ new rules but implemented for the state and that we love and care for them and we show it by implementing safe and healthy practices,” said Jeffries. 

Understanding the new protective measures is critical to protecting against the spread of the virus throughout the community as the majority of information about the pandemic is second hand knowledge spread through word of mouth and social media. 

Guiding Light Ministries (courtesy photo).

Two on-site nurses are currently on staff at the day center with thermometers checking for symptoms of COVID-19 in guests. If a guest seems to be infected they will be sent to the emergency room and evaluated to see if they qualify for an official test.

On March 28, Guiding Light vacated their facility at 255 S. Division Ave. to be used by Kent County as an isolation center for the homeless population of the Heartside neighborhood. Proper medical professionals and equipment will be set up in the facility to help treat and quarantine individuals who test positive for COVID-19. 

“The population in our densely populated Heartside district is at high risk for exposure to COVID-19,” said Guiding Light Executive Director Stuart P. Ray. “This highly mobile population does not have access to basic sanitation nor the ability to practice physical distancing. In addition, many are also dealing with substance or mental health issues and compromised immune systems.”

Mel Trotter’s most critical need is for personal protection supplies such as masks and hand sanitizer as well basic needs such as toilet paper. Despite the outbreak, Jeffries does not believe there has been a drop in monetary donations.

“Monetarily we have been blessed and the community is staying strong and encouraging us.”

To find out more about how you can help, visit the following websites: 

Mel Trotter Ministries Donations https://www.meltrotter.org/

Guiding Light Website- https://guidinglightworks.org/

Dégagé Ministries-http://www.degageministries.org/

Homeless Count Source – http://endhomelessnesskent.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PIT-4-YR-Summary.pdf

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