Oregon homeless shelters grapple with regulations, keeping people housed
On a normal night, Oregonians who have no home of their own can find safety in homeless shelters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these shelters are more crucial than ever — and some are having a hard time adjusting.
Good Neighbor Center in Tigard is a family homeless shelter that's been serving those in need since 1999.
Julia Peterson, a resident support staff member, said donations have gone down since the virus became a more serious threat in Oregon.
"We run off of donations in the community," she said.
She said the outbreak also has affected being able to get help from partner organizations they normally work with, because those organizations are short staffed due to more people staying home.
People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Many have respiratory infections and weakened immune systems from harsh living conditions. They also have fewer resources to stay hygienic enough to prevent illness and no place to go to recover.
To keep people at the shelter healthy and safe, they've ramped up cleaning and protocol for entering the facility.
"We are wiping things down a few times throughout the day," Peterson said.
She added that this is in addition to the chores the residents already do themselves.
Additionally, people entering the facility have to wash their hands immediately.
For those who wish to donate, Good Neighbor Center is only accepting food, hygiene items and cleaning supplies at this time. Donate here.
My Father's House, a nonprofit family shelter in Gresham, also is being impacted by the pandemic. The shelter currently houses 39 families — roughly 130 people.
"Every day is something new that we have to deal with," Executive Director Cathe Wiese said.
Their volunteer base consists of retirees, so Wiese said they've had to close their main donation center, day care center and educational classes. She said this affects families who are working or looking for work, and seven residents who are finishing up their diplomas.
They currently are operating without about 120 of their typical volunteers.
"It's kind of put our whole program on hold," Wiese said.
Residents who have been working hard to get on their feet saw the rug pulled out from under them last week.
"I see a lot of discouragement," Wiese said.
She said although they've lost some support from businesses and churches due to hardships of their own, the shelter has still seen a lot of generosity.
"People are responding to the need. They want to be helpful," she said. "Even though this crisis is ongoing, we're still doing interviews and accepting families … we can't stop that process. We are taking temperatures and making sure people aren't sick when they come in for an interview."
To help My Father's House, visit their website.
Meanwhile, temporary shelters are popping up to keep the region's most vulnerable population safe.
The Oregon Convention Center, owned by Metro, now is being used to shelter the region's homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic.
It's the second temporary shelter to open in Portland, after the Charles Jordan Community Center in North Portland began taking residents from crowded shelters last week.
"We are using every resource we have to ensure the health of our most vulnerable neighbors," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told the Oregonian.
According to the Oregonian, Multnomah County employees have been asked to volunteer to staff the new shelters alongside nonprofits already contracted by the Joint Office to run existing shelters.
Note: Portions of this article were originally published by the Oregonian, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.
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