Since Governor DeWine issued his initial “stay home” order three weeks ago, much has changed. Ohioans have been instructed to go out only for essentials, continue social distancing, and to stay at home as much as possible.
But what does this mean for people experiencing homelessness? Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB), the Bethany House, and Maslow’s Army provide shelter and support for some of our community’s most vulnerable people and will continue to do so during the pandemic.
When you are told to quarantine but don't have a home
CUB has cared has for people in Cincinnati since 1830 and operates three programs: Early Childhood Education, which provides kindergarten readiness and care for children ages 3–5; Off the Streets, which offers services for female victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation; and the Anna Louise Inn, which arranges safe and affordable housing for women.
“During this critical time, we are working on all fronts to make sure our clients are cared for. This crisis hits people already experiencing poverty so much differently,” says Beth Schwartz, CEO of CUB.
Bethany House provides emergency shelter when families can no longer double up with other family or friends, or when they are evicted because a car, medical, or other financial expense has proven unmanageable. They serve 1,600 children and 800 families annually. In addition to shelter, case managers work with each family to ensure that kids are in school. They provide life skills classes, counseling, medical and mental health screenings, and care.
Most Bethany House families live in communal housing — single moms and their children sharing bedrooms, or a dining room turned into a bedroom. Quarters are close. It is impossible to practice social distancing in these homes, and volunteers cannot currently come into the facilities, so staff is covering everything.
“There continue to be many unknowns,” says Susan Schiller, CEO of Bethany House. “At this time, we are focusing on safe living space and food, but we will need to eventually address the effects of quarantining children [and] families for extended periods of time without access to computers, internet, and educational opportunities.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created even greater challenges for both organizations and the people in their care. Staff members and volunteers (through donations) continue to provide much needed support, but it still may not be enough with the forecasted duration of the crisis.
CUB is bringing in food for the Anna Louise inn residents. They are conducting some counseling and case management by phone, as they have reduced the staff presence in the building.
They have temporarily changed the childcare facility to a pandemic center, serving the children whose parents are essential workers in fields like healthcare and safety.
The Bethany House priority is to move families from communal living to individual housing to maintain safe social distance.
Families are moving into extended stay hotels that do not have customers, so each group will have its own room with a kitchen.
Schwartz adds: “We have readjusted our entire operations so that we can maintain our services to clients while still following all of the distancing guidelines to keep clients and staff safe.”
During normal times, Maslow’s Army provides two weekly outreaches that offer roses, pizza fresh fruit, water, food, haircuts, hygiene kits, and clothing to people experiencing homelessness.
They help people transition from the streets to housing and to a productive life. This means first feeding, clothing, and sheltering — or what we might think of as essential according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
They locate educational opportunities and other needs that may include getting an ID, joining Social Security, mental and physical health services, addiction treatment, and more. This includes peer-to-peer counseling.
The mission at Maslow's Army is to help provide the essential tools needed to become healthy members of society. They’re currently seeking resources to place people in hotels and offer more hygiene kits. Maslow’s Army is currently housing 145 people in hotels and does need funding to continue. Government officials have mandated “shelter in place” orders, which read as a most serious challenge to those without homes.
Caring for vulnerable populations
Brighton Center’s mission is to create opportunities for self-sufficiency through family support services, education, employment, and leadership. Currently, they will remain operational and provide essential services.
Families are counting on Brighton Center to provide safety net services such as food, rent assistance, and connections to employment. As a result, many staff members are working from home contacting customers to make sure their needs are being met.
Brighton Center is providing emergency food assistance to any Northern Kentucky resident on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 12:30–4:30 p.m., no appointment necessary. If customers are unable to make it during those dates or times, they should call 859-491-8303 ext. 2300 to speak to a customer service specialist about home delivery.
According to Tammy Weidenger, president and CEO, “Brighton Center is working hard to be responsive to the needs of Northern Kentucky residents during this challenging time. We are committed to providing essential services to the community while complying with all CDC recommendations and governor’s orders. We know people are hurting and we know others want to help. If you need help, call us; if you want to help, please check our website for volunteer and donation opportunities. I’m confident our community will respond, as it always does, with generosity and concern for their neighbors.”
Planned Parenthood (PP) Southwest Ohio Region provides access to high-quality health care and education that empower people to make informed, private decisions about their reproductive lives and sexual health. They will continue to provide care (including abortions for now), in the time ahead.
Planned Parenthood has moved to essential services only and is available to patients while also minimizing risk for their own staff and other patients. They are directing those in need of birth control or UTI treatment to Planned Parenthood Direct so they may receive care. Further, they are building sex education webinars and moving into the digital space for educational work.
Kersha Deibel, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, says, “As Ohioans do their part to keep each other healthy during this COVID-19 pandemic, Planned Parenthood is committed to working with public health leaders to serve the community. Every health care provider has a role to play, and we are doing our part to conserve needed resources.”
The Mary Magdalen House provides an oasis of hospitality that includes a place for people to shower, shave, brush their teeth, have clothing laundered, use a phone, and receive messages and mail. The current situation has required that they limit the number of people in their waiting room to ten. They provide hand sanitizer to each person as they come in the door and are cleaning even more than usual.
“These are people who have no safety nets and are particularly vulnerable to the disease,” says Cary Powell, executive director. “If and when they do contract it, most of them have underlying health conditions that will make recovery more difficult. Few have primary care doctors or medical homes.”