With Kodiak’s public facilities closed down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the city’s homeless have been left without places to go during the day — and without a way to quarantine themselves.
Rebecca Shields, the executive director of the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center, urged the community to not forget the homeless.
“As community members, we are all lucky that if we get sick we have a home to be sick in. The homeless population does not have a home to be sick in. That puts them at risk and the community (at risk),” Shields said.
According to Dana Myers, the interim director of the Brother Francis Shelter, knowing where to go will be a struggle for homeless individuals, especially with the closing of the public library, seating at Safeway and McDonald’s dine-in service.
“For shelter there are not a lot of options to be able to isolate. We just have too many people,” Myers said of the Brother Francis Shelter. “We’re encouraging people to wash their hands and be safe and take all the precautions that the CDC has recommended.”
To prevent the community spread of COVID-19, the KWRCC has also taken precautionary measures, including the suspension of nonresidential services for clients who do not stay at the center’s shelter.
“Our clients who are non-residential clients used to be able to come into our shelter and take showers and hang out for the day. We are not going to be able to provide that service,” Shields said.
The women’s center has taken other measures to keep its staff and its shelter residents safe, including screening clients before they enter the center, separating shelter residents to give them as much space as possible, and requesting them to quarantine themselves in the shelter.
The center has also stopped accepting clothing donations, non-essential travel among staff and in-person meetings.
Although the center has changed its services for clients who do not live in the shelter, it still provides crisis services for people who are in danger.
“We’re now practicing social distancing and doing the best to continue doing what we always do to provide services in a safe way,” Shields said.
She said she is worried about safely quarantining homeless people who may present with symptoms of the virus. If somebody is presenting with an illness and has symptoms of the virus, she will need help from the community and city partners.
“If we do everything right now, then we won’t be met with that. We are really hoping that the Kodiak community can come together in partnership and collaboration, and that we can start planning what we are going to do if our medical system is overtaxed,” she said.
Shields noted the importance of collaboration between service organizations and the city to figure out what to do if homeless individuals contract the virus.
“Where are we going to safely place this group of people? We don’t have enough expertise or space or room or the ability to do that at the Women’s Resource Center,” she said. “It’s not going to work to have people who are sick be housed with people who are not sick and maintain social distancing and being quarantined from each other.”
Shields said the resource center is trying to solve that issue. She also hopes to become a member of a committee that will bring together the Women’s Resource Center, the Brother Francis Shelter and city officials to plan for the eventuality of caring for homeless people who may contract the virus.
“It really is a matter of when, not if,” she said. “I’m hoping to work with city planners to figure out what building we can use and make a protocol to keep everyone in Kodiak safe. As of right now, that is not in place. The sooner we work together, the better.”
To at least solve the issue of lack of daytime shelter, the city has submitted a request to the State Emergency Operations Center to use Kodiak’s U.S. Army National Guard Armory as a daytime shelter for those in need. City officials are currently awaiting a response, said City Manager Mike Tvenge.
Shawn Olsen is the president of the Kodiak Area Mentor Program, a faith-based nonprofit that helps people recover from addiction. The organisation canceled their group meetings to follow local officials’ recommendation of self distance, or keeping at least 6 feet away from others.
Olsen said there are homeless individuals who suffer from substance abuse disorder, and before the meetings were canceled and public facilities were closed, they were making great strides in recovery.
“If this goes on much longer, I can’t imagine what resources we are going to need if this goes on and people can’t find the shelter they need,” he said, adding that it only takes one sick person to sleep next to someone else to spread the virus.
Olsen said homeless individuals make up 10-15% of the attendance at group meetings, and noted that those suffering from substance abuse disorder have additional hurdles to overcome to stay safe from the virus.
“When you’re in addiction, you are not taking precautions necessary to take care of yourself.
Your immune system is down because of drug abuse, your cleanliness and hygiene and sometimes living situations are not healthy,” he said. “People experience unhealthy habits … They take those back to those family members.”
Kodiak Daily Mirror reporter Iris Samuels contributed to this story.