Homeless shelters across the country face unique challenges while trying to provide safe and sanitary shelters amidst a global pandemic. In Tompkins County, shelters strive to reach this goal with adjusted services.

Eros Hoagland / New York Times

Homeless shelters across the country face unique challenges while trying to provide safe and sanitary shelters amidst a global pandemic. In Tompkins County, shelters strive to reach this goal with adjusted services.

March 25, 2020

Ithaca Homeless Shelters Find Ways to Serve Community Amidst Pandemic

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Despite heightened health concerns, Ithaca homeless shelters are still finding ways to protect some of the city’s most vulnerable — while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Even amidst widespread disruption, St. John’s Community Services, a homeless shelter located on 618 West State St., continues to house homeless individuals who have been, or are awaiting, approval by the Department of Social Services.

But according to Gibrian Hagood, an employee at St. John’s, even those that are not guaranteed beds by DSS “are still not denied.”

“What we’ve been doing is putting people up either in our hotels that we have, or we’ve put them in beds here,” said Hagood, who explained that St. John’s has an ongoing partnership with three local hotels to provide shelter, in addition to the 12 rooms located at its downtown facility.

The facility has implemented a limit of one person per room, in order to help cut down on interpersonal contact.

Tompkins County had 91 residents in 2018 who were in emergency shelter, transitional housing or unsheltered, according to the Human Services Coalition’s annual count.

St. John’s Friendship Center is still open for emergency services, such as access to the bathroom, shower or to help address individuals’ medical questions. However, the Center is closed to those who do not face an imminent need, in keeping with public health guidelines.

If people come to the shelter with health concerns, St. John’s staff will go through a questionnaire with them and provide a number to contact Tompkins County Health Department. At the recommendation of the health department, the shelter may then quarantine the individual, if needed.

The food pantry run by St. John’s is also still open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Beyond the work of St. John’s, Ithaca’s community organizations have continued their efforts to reach out to individuals suffering from homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis. According to a statement issued by the Tompkins Department of Social Services, despite social distancing, the importance of outreach is ongoing.

“Outreach staff, consisting of DSS staff and other community partners, are visiting individuals who are experiencing homelessness and have provided information and education on COVID-19 and continue to offer options for sheltering and other services,” it read.