The question of whether resources will remain available is quite daunting during this pandemic. COVID-19 continues to plague the global sector. Local communities continue to feel the weight of increasing case numbers and threats of a new, not-so-normal. In these uncertain times, one specific community faces COVID-19 without access to necessary resources: those experiencing homelessness.
For some, home is specific: a two-bedroom, one bathroom, second-story apartment, fully furnished with ample space. For others, home has less permanence: the overpass at Brookstown Ave. and High St., or beside the ravine near MLK Jr. Dr. and Angelo Bros Ave. In any case, “home” has relevance. But for those unhoused, the ubiquity and permanence of settled space is less common. Resourcing communities, especially during this pandemic, is key as many more individuals and families experience homelessness as a present reality.
In 2019 an estimated 9,314 individuals experienced homelessness in North Carolina on a given night. Among those affected were 2, 268 unsheltered individuals.
The unsheltered population during COVID-19, considered at-risk, has increased susceptibility with the spread of infection increasing across the state. According to a study published by the University of Pennsylvania, “by creating adequate and humane accommodations for people living unsheltered…and reconfiguring existing facilities to accommodate social distancing and isolate symptomatic individuals, lives can be saved.”
Several programs across North Carolina move towards this goal daily. One such program dedicating its efforts to resourcing communities of individuals experiencing homelessness is Samaritan Ministries.
Samaritan Ministries, founded in 1981, serves the homeless population of Winston-Salem 365 days a year, and has continued during COVID-19. Social distancing measures changed normal operations. They’ve led to less access to the building and temporary housing facilities and curbside pickup for meals. “We serve lunch every day,” Vanita Elliot, a volunteer coordinator at the building, stated, “but it’s changed a lot.” In addition to the meals provided to the community on a first-come-first-served basis, Samaritan Ministries provides temporary housing as a men’s shelter for up to 90 days. CDC guidelines require stricter monitoring when entering the facility due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, but operations continue. Samaritan Ministries programs include Soup Kitchen, Samaritan Inn, Project Cornerstone and The Empowerment Project. Each program continues to serve individuals experiencing homelessness across the city during the pandemic.
City With Dwellings
Tracy Mohr, Deputy Director of City with Dwellings, also resonates with the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in the Triad. City with Dwellings, a 501C3 nonprofit, facilitates community-driven programs. This nonprofit also “works to end the crisis of homelessness in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, providing a unique platform for volunteers across the community to connect and build relationships with individuals who are experiencing homelessness.”
In a recent conversation with Mohr, she spoke about how City with Dwellings chose to address the challenge of remaining open during the pandemic. “We did not close our doors when the crisis hit,” Mohr emphasized. She also related that the environment present during COVID-19, though affected by new health protocols from the CDC and local health departments, remained, “a welcoming, hospitable place.” Within the building, the open floor plan gives rise to a socially distanced resource center furnished with computers and other tools to equip those experiencing homelessness. Activities include filing for unemployment, checking the status of stimulus checks, and connecting with national, state, and local resources.
Uniquely positioned in Downtown Winston-Salem, City with Dwellings provides temporary shelter, hot meals for individuals experiencing homeless and tools to help meet individuals where they are at. “We like to find a way to ‘yes’ for folks,” Mohr added, “we’re small and pride ourselves on being responsive to individual circumstances.”
“Our process is to download an individual’s story and assess it with them and select resources that will help reach that individual’s goals,” Mohr stated. And, as part of the Continuum of Care, City with Dwellings is a presence not only in North Carolina, but nationally responsive in a “community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness.”
These are just two programs moving towards resourcing communities experiencing homelessness during the pandemic in North Carolina.
For other resources see Navigating the “Stay At Home Order” When “Home” is Not A Consistent Solution.