Dallas — People across the community are following social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, staying home as much as they can, avoiding crowds, washing hands, and trying to keep the most vulnerable safe from the virus. However, when living with housing and resource insecurity, following these guidelines is exceptionally challenging.
To address this challenge, Union Gospel Mission has changed their housing procedure to allow people to stay in their shelter during the day as well as overnight. Additionally, the mission distributed hand sanitizer, soap, and other hygiene products to those staying in the shelter.
Operation Care International collected toiletries and donated them to Union Gospel Mission.
“We have toiletries, drinks, water, and hygiene items from Operation Care,” Bruce Butler, CEO of Union Gospel Mission, said. “The organization normally passes out these items at the end of the year for Christmas, but there is a need now for these items in our community. [Operation Care International] have been a long term partner with us, and we are so grateful for them.”
“It is a blessing,” resident Todd Fheeby said. “Anything we are getting from donations and through the mission has been a blessing. It has been a little rough feeling stuck here. But we are not stuck, we can leave if we want, but we will not necessarily have a bed if we come back.
“We have been here for a week. It was different the first couple days, but they have been so nice to us and that has helped. We are able to volunteer and help out while we are here. Everyone is getting along so far.
“I miss being able to be out in the city. I am concerned about the people who are not taking the advice of the government. I do not want anyone to get sick,” he said.
“It is extremely hard for homeless people to get hand sanitizer,” Butler said. “It is hard for me to get it, and I have resources some folks do not have. We have been working hard with the city of Dallas to try to get these supplies for the homeless population. There is not enough hand sanitizer made here in our country. It makes it difficult to find when the demand increases like this.”
“Some people here do not have any means of getting sanitizer and soap,” resident Curtis Crockett said. “It is such a blessing to a lot of us. It helps keep down the germs and to keep the virus from spreading. In times like this, it is important for us to follow the suggestion to stay home. I take consideration of the elderly and the children. We need to follow what they say so everyone can be safe. We need to take precautions and remind each of us that we are doing this to protect other people as well as ourselves.”
“The homeless population is extremely vulnerable to viruses, including COVID-19,” Butler said. “A lot of the homeless we work with are elderly. Many have other illnesses that impact their immune system. They are out in the elements. They are not able to go to doctor appointments like many of us do when we are sick.”
Many people with housing insecurity also are considered “unsheltered homeless.” According to the 2019 Point in Time National Homeless Count, the number of people living outside in camps has increased dramatically. The people who live in these camps often combine resources and live close to each other, increasing the chances of spreading the virus to others.
“I would like to let people know that organizations like Union Gospel Mission Dallas are emergency responders,” Butler said. “When this crisis started, when we got the information from the medical professionals about social distancing, we had to provide that information to the homeless population.
“We need to shield the homeless and try to prevent them from getting sick. We need people to partner with us to help the homeless folk know we love them and want them to be healthy. We are going to stand beside them, taking on the risk to our health to provide for those folks who have less. We still have bills. We still need money to buy supplies at the stores. We need help. Our costs have skyrocketed, moving from a night shelter to a daytime shelter.
“We shelter between 400-450 men in one shelter, and the Center of Hope shelters 150 women and children. Normally we have some people in our program facility during the day, but most of the people leave our shelter back into the city for other services. Because of social distancing, we have moved from having most of the people leaving the building during the day, to providing everything they need here in the building. This has doubled our costs, as we feed everyone and wash clothes daily for everyone.
“People presume the homeless population is not able to earn money because of their intelligence. That is not the case; these are some of the smartest men I have met. We need to remember that we do not pick our background. Some of us are born on the fast track to success, while some of us have a tough time, and it is harder to be successful.
“We provide food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and vocational training. We want people to know we love them and that they can succeed too.”
Aside from cash donations, Union Gospel Mission is also requesting item donations. Specifically during this time of social distancing, chess boards, games, and books would benefit the residents of the shelter.
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