Local homeless shelter ends overnight stays

Chatham Hope Haven men's shelter, April 19, 2017. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

The impacts of COVID-19 is causing a men’s homeless shelter in Chatham to alter its services.

On Saturday, Chatham Hope Haven announced that April 25 will be the last night it offers accommodations.

Despite the pandemic, the shelter was recognized as an essential business and had been operating from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., providing beds, showers and meals for those most in need in the community.

Several new policies were put in place during this time to increase shelter safety including moving beds 6 feet apart, mandatory hand washing, increased sanitation as well as the use of gloves and face maks.

However, General Manager Wanda Bell said the shelter will now suspend nighttime operations, largely due to safety risks imposed on the volunteers and concerns of infection.

“Over the past few weeks, several volunteers have stepped back, which is understandable considering fear of infection. This has left the remaining folks stretched and doing double-duty,” said Bell. “In addition, recruitment of new volunteers is difficult in the best of times as the homeless are a challenging group to help.”

There are 15 individuals who are currently staying at the shelter and Bell said they will be forced to leave on April 25.

Now, she’s calling on the municipality to help the most vulnerable.

“Most of Chatham’s homeless are always looking for a place to live, but finding housing they can afford is an on-going challenge,” said Bell. “Now with COVID-19, finding even just a room in which they can self isolate, is a matter of life and death.”

Bell added that the decision is being made with a “heavy heart.”

“Our mission to advocate for the homeless remains our top priority. The way we operate in the coming months, however will change,” she said. “The volunteers who now supervise in the evening will be asked to continue to help with meals and emotional support – but in a different way.”