Grace Centers of Hope: Homeless face increased risk from COVID-19
By Kent W. Clark Special to MediaNews Group; Mar 25, 2020
Pastor Kent Clark, CEO of Grace Centers of Hope.
As Michigan residents are staying home and using “social distancing” to help limit the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic in our state, it’s important that we don’t forget about another segment of our population that does not have this luxury.
The homeless are already struggling to survive every day, and this latest health crisis only makes things more difficult for them as they work to get their lives back on track.
This population lacks the basic resources that most of us can rely on in troubled times (shelter, clothing and food), and they are less able to access information, testing, and resources as the pandemic spreads.
This situation is unfolding across the country, and the numbers are stark. For example, in Los Angeles, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that more than 60,000 homeless could be infected.
People staying in homeless shelters are particularly vulnerable to contracting and experiencing complications from COVID-19. Space is often tight in these facilities, making social distancing less possible. And many who use such services are elderly or have underlying health conditions and chronicle illness, increasing their risk of serious health complications further.
At Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac, we face similar challenges during this crisis.
Our life skills program is at capacity and currently serves nearly 200 men, women and children, most of whom are battling homelessness as well as addiction. We remain dedicated to helping these people as they work toward sobriety and a more stable life, as we have done for more than 75 years.
But like all organizations helping the homeless, we are making some important changes in the short-term to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including:
— Screening individuals for COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival
— Separating those at greater risk, including seniors and individuals with compromised immune systems and chronic illnesses, from the general population
— Setting up limited isolation space for anyone showing symptoms
— Working in conjunction with local health officials and alerting medical facilities as needed
— Educating our entire staff on new protocols to combat the spread of COVID-19 and help provide services to our residents
— Boosting efforts to clean and disinfect our facilities, which includes increased daily and nightly cleaning routines
— Limiting access to Grace Centers of Hope of non-essential staff, volunteers and other visitors
— Following all CDC protocols and guidelines
At Grace Centers of Hope, we understand the urgency of all of these measures, and are doing everything in our power to keep our residents as safe as possible throughout the COVID-19 health crisis.
We also encourage all other groups serving at-risk populations to do the same.
What can the public do to support local homeless shelters?
As area homeless shelters diligently work to support the health and well-being of those battling homelessness, the public can offer a great contribution to this effort by donating a variety of food, household goods and supplies. Items include:
— Food, including fresh produce, meats and non-perishable items
— Gently-used clothing
— Toilet paper
— Laundry detergent
— Hand sanitizer
— Other cleaning supplies
— Monetary donations
I encourage everyone to first contact their local homeless shelter to determine what items are in the greatest of need.
These upcoming weeks and months will be difficult for all of us, but especially for those who are homeless and fighting addiction, and are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, due to their inability to “shelter at home.”
If we work together as a community, all of us — even the most vulnerable — can come out of this crisis stronger and more unified.
Kent W. Clark is chief executive officer of Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac, and the senior pastor of Grace Gospel Fellowship. For more information about Grace Centers of Hope, visit www.gracecentersofhope.org or call 1-855-HELP-GCH.