County shelters deal with staff shortages, new requirements to serve people in need
Traipsing along on the backs of his laceless dress shoes on Friday, a man made his way across Southwest Greenburg Road to the Good Neighbor Center in Tigard and walked gingerly up to Renee Brouse.
Could she find him a pair of shoes, he asked?
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shut the center to visitors at the center, which caters to unhoused families, Brouse said she'd go look.
"My feet are completely destroyed," the man explained as she disappeared into the center. "Thank God for this place."
A moment later, Brouse came back out. She offered the man his choice of either a pair of athletic shoes or hiking boots. He chose the boots.
Like the rest of the people the Good Neighbor Center helps, David Kyle Dennis, 48, is homeless. He said he came from California and was trying to make his way to Washington. From there, he planned to hitchhike across the country to Maine, where he has family.
While Dennis needed a pair of pants as well, Brouse said they currently aren't giving away clothing because of health concerns.
"From the very beginning of the COVID situation, we shut down donations with the exception of hygiene items, cleaning supplies and food," said Brouse, who is executive director of the Good Neighbor Center — one of the few shelters for unhoused families in Washington County — as well as a city councilor in nearby Sherwood.
Before Dennis left, Brouse and Traci Miller, a donation specialist at the center, offered him several sandwiches and a six-pack of a nutrition drink beverage for his trip. He thanked them and headed back toward Greenburg Road.
As part of Gov. Kate Brown's March executive order to stay home during the pandemic and maintain social distancing, Brouse said the Good Neighbor Center locked down the center's entrances and exits to ensure the safety of the nine families living there. She happened to be outside when Dennis came up to ask for shoes.
"We're about ready to have five families move out into housing," Brouse said. "So we'll cycle through another set of families coming through pretty soon. The families stay six to eight weeks."
There are exceptions, especially right now. Amid the pandemic, along with a change in management companies at some of the apartment complexes where the Good Neighbor Center tries to move families to more permanent lodging, one family has been staying at the Good Neighbor Center since January.
Brouse said all the residents at the center — 28 parents and their children — have been given sanitary supplies to protect against the disease, as well as face masks. The staff, which has dwindled because of vulnerability concerns related to COVID-19, wear face masks and gloves as well.
"Four of us are doing 12-hour shifts," Brouse said.
She said plans are underway to find a way to eventually get back to full staffing.
Meanwhile, the families at the center are doing their best to maintain social distancing.
"We've laid the dining room out so each family has their own table, and then there's two dinner times, so there's a 5 o'clock dinner time and a 6 o'clock dinner time," Brouse said.
The pandemic has made it difficult for many unhoused families in Washington County to find a place to live.
"In other words, there's not enough spaces that are open for them," Brouse said. "We're getting a number of calls from people who want shelter."
Right now, the facility is in need of men's underwear, macaroni and cheese, socks for toddlers, Lysol wipes, hand sanitizer, and cleaning products.
Other shelters face needs
Up the street on Southwest Hall Boulevard, Just Compassion's Resource Center, a day center for people without housing, the COVID-19 situation has meant expanded hours of operations, with the center now open three days per week instead of only two, according to Vernon Baker, the center's executive director.
The center at 12280 S.W. Hall Blvd. provides a place for those without permanent homes to come and look for a job, seek mental health service referrals as well as find clothing and receive a meal.
Baker said the staff at the facility has been trying to make the center as safe as possible during the pandemic.
"Of course as everyone transitions out, we sanitize after each individual use," Baker said. "So we're just keeping in compliance with all the social distancing in keeping people safe."
The Tigard City Council recently selected Just Compassion of East Washington County as one of seven recipients from a fund set up to provide relief for nonprofits affected by the public health emergency.
Baker said that part of the $20,000 his organization received will be used to make up for staffing losses felt after many of the volunteers at the resource center had to leave because they were in a vulnerable age bracket for contacting COVID-19.
"We had, I would say, approximately 50 volunteers on our list that would rotate," Baker said. Almost all of those volunteers are 60 or older, he estimates. "We went from that to basically zero, and so we've had to adjust accordingly."
Although not an overnight shelter, the Just Compassion Resource Center is in the process of remodeling its lower level, with the goal of having it finished before next winter.
Baker also spends some of his time at the Beaverton Community Center, a shelter jointly run by Just Compassion and the city government of Beaverton at 12350 S.W. Fifth St.
Recently, Washington County asked the city to keep the shelter open until May 31 to house individuals who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
Abigail Elder, director of the office of Mayor Denny Doyle, said during inclement weather, the Beaverton Community Center provides overnight shelter services only on Thursdays.
"With the COVID crisis, the county asked us to change our shelter model and be open every day," she said. "So starting the middle of March until the end of May, we're open every day."
Community Action is currently managing the center during its extended opening.
Elder said beds at the shelter are spread out six feet apart for social distancing. The shelter operates differently from the winter shelter where those spending the night came on a first-come, first-served basis.
"This shelter, people are assigned beds — so we have 25 folks, less than we would normally have," Elder said. "We have to have a lot more distance between beds now, so we can't accommodate as many people."
Dinner comes from Meals on Wheels People and a bag lunch is provided by Lionheart Coffee Co.
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