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Outbreak not stopping Catholic Charities from helping the homeless


While many people in New Jersey are staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds are still sleeping on the streets or in shelters. Each night, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark provides housing for 350 people across 16 facilities, including its emergency shelters, transitional residences, group homes, supportive housing and a psychiatric community home. All of Catholic Charities’ shelters and residences are open and full. Individuals and families who are homeless are understandably concerned. Given the nature of the close quarters, one positive case could cause the virus to spread rapidly through its shelters. 

In response, Catholic Charities has implemented aggressive cleaning protocols in all of these programs. The facilities are sanitized three times a day, with particular attention to commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs, stair railings and countertops. Shelter directors are communicating clearly with all residents about protocols and the measures in place to protect them and the staff from spreading the virus. Social distancing is strongly encouraged and enforced, and clients eat their meals in shifts to allow more spacing in the dining room. In each facility, there are designated areas or rooms where people can isolate if they show symptoms and test positive for the virus. 

Residents have been extremely cooperative in implementing safety measures and adhering to the new rules. More than ever, it is a scary time to be unhoused. Individuals are operating without a safety net and without a support system. Clients in the shelters are having their temperature monitored on a daily basis. Should anyone have a high temperature, they will be quarantined away from the larger population and the Department of Health will be notified for further instructions. Of course, staff will continue to provide each person with the care they need, whether in hospital or isolation. 

Shelter staff members are truly admirable at the front lines of this crisis. They have been counseling clients through the stress and anxiety of this unprecedented time. However, they are operating on a skeleton crew as some staff have needed to self-isolate. Agency employees are being cross-trained to ensure that all of the shelters have 24/7 coverage in case staff get sick. All staff are being provided with personal protective equipment, including gloves, N95 masks and goggles, although these supplies are limited. 

The director of housing has concerns about all supply levels—personal protective equipment, thermometers, cleaning supplies and even food as the weeks pass. Right now, cleaning supplies are running low. The food supply is currently adequate, but staff have been monitoring daily to see what is available. As it is, all of the shelters are underfunded by the government. They are in deficit and this crisis will only increase the deficit. Catholic Charities is asking the greater community to help its unhoused population.

“During this time of great uncertainty, things feel chaotic and unstable. However, one thing remains the same, and that is the love and support of our community,” said John Westervelt, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities. “We are so grateful for our staff, who are working tirelessly to provide for those most in need. We are deeply appreciative of our friends, our funders, our donors and all those who are praying for us at this time. We ask for your continued support and we strongly ask that, if you are blessed enough, you would please consider making a donation of supplies or money to help support our housing programs.”  

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