A-SPAN’s Homeless Services Center is full, with 36 men’s beds, 14 women’s and one medical respite bed. But it isn‘t business as usual.
The Homeless Services Center immediately put emergency protocols in place when the pandemic declaration was made. “We were told on March 13 to take everything we would need with us and be prepared to work from home for a month. People thought, what — a month?”
Scott Miller, Senior Director of Development for A-SPAN, says, “One of our first challenges was that the hypothermia designation, which gave us extra beds, had just ended the day before the pandemic was announced. We suddenly had this population with nowhere to go, since the regular HSC beds were full.”
Miller says the A-SPAN nurse practitioner, Kasia Shaw, identified the most vulnerable for COVID-19 in the homeless hypothermia population based on age, medical condition and history. She gave the list to the Arlington Department of Human Services, and Human Services revised the list based on their criteria.
These 12 most vulnerable homeless people were moved into hotel rooms paid for by the County budget. The Homeless Services Center and the hotel rooms were defined as “home” for the purposes of the Governor’s Stay at Home order. “The County really stepped up and did the right thing. We’re thrilled.”
Miller continues, “We met some real challenges at first. People don’t like change.” He says, “our clients like a routine, and they are used to eating at noon.” But he says the meal service was done in shifts to open up space and so there wasn’t a wave of people. “There were a lot of restrictions with emergency protocols. And people could only sit on the left side of the tables so they weren’t facing each other.”
In addition, some of the cubicles sleep two people. As a result, they changed the arrangements so the people were sleeping head to toe to maintain appropriate distance. “Things were happening so fast. Every day there was a new rule. We had to take all things into consideration, to ago with the flow and to create a ‘chill environment.’”
Miller says A-SPAN currently has 37 full-time and 22 part-time staff. Currently, 12 are deemed “essential” and working on-site, while the others are working at home. The essential employees are medical, commercial kitchen, cleaning and 24-hour shelter monitors and directors.
Homeless Services Center is able to continue to staff the 8 a.m.-4 p.m. day program. Under normal conditions, this program provides their homeless clients with a place to get a shower, wash clothes, get meals, job training and counseling, medical treatment and case management.
Now, Miller says the case managers are off-site but still connecting with clients but just in a different format on-line. The laundry is now being bagged separately and done by staff. The clothing room is still open but now the clients can’t browse through the clothes themselves anymore. HSC has kept the “essential” life coaches at their new Westover site, which serves their clients who need added support. Miller says little has been cancelled; they have just had to rethink how to do things.
Miller says the on-site staff currently doesn’t wear masks but they do have a supply in reserve. “Early on we thought we might need supplies and everyone was waiting for direction but it didn’t happen.” So we got proactive on meeting protocols and bought masks and hospital grade cleaning supplies, which are very expensive.”
The staff get a lot of credit, Miller explains, but have health concerns themselves and go home to their families. Miller says we ask what happens when we don’t have staff willing to work. In the meantime, each day brings a new challenge. “The situation continues to be fluid.”