by Livia Bardin
How do you stay at home when you have no home? How do you self-quarantine when you don’t have a room, a bathroom, a door to close? How do you wash your hands when you lack running water? How do you apply online for a job or benefits when libraries and other sources are closed, shutting off your access to the Internet?
The needs of homeless people, for whom facilities are limited even in ordinary times, are more severe and present new challenges in the Covid-19 era. And as more people are reluctant to stay in shelters, the demand for services is increasing, according to Jamie Butler, a board member for Friendship Place, a Tenleytown nonprofit and Ward 3’s lead agency for the homeless.
In a recent conference call, Sean Read, who oversees services to the homeless for Friendship Place, described changes the agency has made to adapt to the new circumstances. While some employees are working from home, others are in the field. Street outreach workers wear masks, gloves and even protective eyeglasses when they visit Ward 3’s homeless encampments – including the one near the Van Ness Metro – at least once a day.
The workers, sometimes in partnership with workers from other agencies, explain the symptoms to the occupants, check them for signs of illness, and assist them with help ranging from medical care to food to the $1,200 stimulus checks supposedly on the way. The needs of this vulnerable group can change from morning to afternoon to evening, Read explained.
Like all of us, homeless people need to find new ways to cope – from food and showers to filling out forms to getting masks so they can use public transportation to go to medical appointments or work. (Thirty percent of homeless adults in DC were employed according to the 2019 Point-In-Time Count). Some faith-based groups are stepping up to maintain food and other services, but others cannot safely continue their usual roles. Friendship Place itself has closed its Welcome Center at 4713 Wisconsin Avenue because the building is too small for those inside to maintain safe distances.
On the other hand, life keeps moving along. The Brooks, Ward 3’s short-term housing for families opened with an initial group of 10 families on April 27th. Training of staff for The Brooks has changed to reflect the reality of the Covid-19 emergency and Friendship Place CEO Jean-Michel Giraud said the program was fully staffed and prepared to welcome its first families.
AimHire, the agency’s employment program, is working remotely. It placed 13 participants in the past five weeks as employers continued to hire people qualified in areas like food service, cleaning services, and security.
Like many other organizations, Friendship Place staffers are experiencing difficulties in getting supplies for its supportive housing programs, ranging from food to toilet paper – and of course – safety equipment. They need quantities of masks for both the participants they serve and the workers who serve them. They need $10 gift certificates to places like Wawa, Subway and Chipotle for homeless people who can’t get to soup kitchens. They need gift certificates in $25 and $50 denominations to stores like Giant, Safeway, and CVS so they can purchase supplies and deliver them to needy participants who can’t go out, or are taking in homeless relatives but can’t afford to feed them.
Despite all, the agency continues to reach out. Anyone in need of help should call 202-364-1419 and leave a message. Friendship Place will get back to you.