Just as libraries, coffee shops and other places where people experiencing homelessness can seek refuge during the day shut down due to the new coronavirus outbreak, some day programs that serve that population are closing as well.
Two recovery-focused day programs run by Horizon House in Wilmington have closed.
Michael Kalmbach is founding director of one, called the Creative Vision Factory. Kalmbach says roughly half of the clients his program serves experience homelessness. The decision to close the program Monday was made to comply with social distancing guidance.
“Monday gave us a really good snapshot of our regular day-to-day members who really have no place to go— who are still living outside, living in abandoned buildings, surviving however they can,” he said. “It was a real gut-punch on Monday telling them that we need to close.”
Kalmbach says his program is working to continue providing snacks, information and electricity to clients in front of the site.
Friendship House, which runs Empowerment Centers in Wilmington, Newark and Middletown that serve many experiencing homelessness, is trying to limit the number of people in their indoor spaces to ten people, including staff.
“We will ask people to not stay,” said Executive Director Kim Eppehimer. “We are being blessed with good weather. So they don’t need to be indoors. If they need to rest, if they’ve been walking, if they are just in not great physical shape, they may need to sit. So we allow that. But people who just want to have bathroom access, want to wash their hands … then we ask them to go on their way. Unless they’re there for some sort of service.”
Eppehimer says it is difficult to enforce social distancing.
“Mitigating the things they touch in between every single client is one issue — re-sanitizing over and over again— but now we’re limited to having as few people as possible on the site in Newark. We can only have ten people, and that includes our staff,” said Eppehimer. “So where do they go? Do they hang out outside? Where do we keep them that we can help with the distancing issues? So we’re really minimizing how much they physically can come— which is so, so hard to manage.”
Eppehimer paints the future of her organization’s operations during the outbreak as uncertain.
“I do think there could easily come a time that we will have to close,” she said. “It could be as early as tomorrow, next week— we’re all aware that that’s a very strong possibility.”
Kalmbach notes the population these programs serve are at an elevated risk to catch this virus and be hurt by it. He says many are elderly, are frequently exposed to the elements, smoke tobacco and have limited access to sanitary facilities.
“For us, it’s definitely exposed something that we’ve always known— that our membership is always vulnerable and always dealing with this disaster [of homelessness] on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “This is just a new wrinkle to it.”