The pandemic is leading shelters to take precautions to limit the spread of the virus, resulting in fewer beds. Some volunteers who typically shuttle the homeless or supervise emergency shelters have come off the roster this year due to their own health concerns.
“It’s very frustrating but we knew coming in that all of the shelter providers were having difficulties for a variety of reasons,” said Stephen Conway, chief of staff to Mayor Lyda Krewson. “Volunteers are older, volunteers are scared.”
In years past, Winter Outreach has had six or eight or even a dozen shelters available. This year it has three.
“Often when we had so many (shelters), a number of them would only do it one night a week,” Childress explained. “We couldn’t have that many moving parts in the middle of COVID-19. It’s not safe for people.”
The city in recent months has added 245 beds for the homeless for a total of 2,400 city-supported beds, officials said, and an additional 170 beds are expected to be available in December. There could be 80 beds added early next year, Conway said.
But expanding that number has been tricky. The men’s shelter, Biddle House, for example, can usually add 50 beds during the winter. This year it will have to cut that number to 25 in an effort to prevent virus transmission.