The Washtenaw County Winter Warming Shelters are opening early this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This year’s Winter Warming Shelter program is starting early for key transitions and additional shelter options for those experiencing homlessness, aligning with safety measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Winter homeless sheltering efforts will begin November 2 as part of a community response.
The Delonis Center has been reduced from 145 beds to the current 70 because of the need to maintain social distancing. To help fill the gap in bed numbers, six congregations have partnered with the Shelter Association to provide rotating overnight shelter (and in some cases daytime shelter) for an entire month each from November through March. The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission has agreed to allow the use of Meri Lou Murray Recreational Center for overnight shelter overflow for up to 60 individuals. These spaces will be reserved on an as needed basis throughout winter.
Additionally this week, the Shelter Association confirmed the receipt of additional funding which will allow them to provide hotel stays for Shelter Association clients who are the most medically fragile. Those hotel stays will also begin on Monday, November 2 at a different area hotel.
“We have been grateful to partner with the Shelter Association and the Red Roof Inn to provide individual hotel rooms since April 2, and in particular during the Stay Home Stay Safe Emergency Order,” said Gregory Dill, Washtenaw County Administrator. “We wanted to ensure an effective and immediate emergency response to provide safe shelter for the most vulnerable in our community.”
Dill noted that the response to homelessness shifted from an emergency response over the summer to efforts to permanently house individuals experiencing homelessness. The Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development was able to provide CARES Act funding for homeless populations to support case management and rental assistance through Rapid Rehousing to prioritize housing placements for Shelter Clients at the Red Roof Inn.
The next phase will be similar to the winter warming season response led by the Shelter Association, but with extra precautions in place to provide safe winter shelter options for daytime and overnight.
The transition will occur starting Monday, November 2. Currently there are 25 clients at Red Roof Inn who will be transitioning to other shelter accommodations on Monday.
“On Monday, we have all hands on deck as we work on a smooth transition from Shelter guests at Red Roof to either the Delonis Center, a rotating congregation, or hotel rooms at another site,” said Dan Kelly, Executive Director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. “Our team has been working to prepare guests for the transition, and will be prioritizing hotel stays for those who might be more at risk in a congregate setting.”
Jimena Loveluck, the Washtenaw County Health Officer noted that safety measures are in place at congregate sites like the Delonis Center. She noted that as of this week, the Delonis Center moved from biweekly COVID testing to weekly testing for clients and staff, and existing protocols such as temperature screenings, mask wearing, and social distancing are still in effect. The last positive case at the Delonis Shelter was in March.
Ongoing work continues to identify additional locations for daytime and overnight shelter for when the weather is colder. “November is the mildest month, so it offers time for us to transition and work on finding additional sites,” Kelly said. “We’ve had an impressive response from the community on identifying locations and we have been visiting multiple sites weekly to evaluate them.”
The Washtenaw County Health Department will provide ongoing oversight to ensure a healthy environment that maintains social distancing guidelines and screening for COVID-19 prior to entry to either facility. Those exhibiting symptoms are immediately transported to Michigan Medical for evaluation. CDC cleaning standards will be practiced at all locations and members of the recreation center will continue to retain full access to the facility during regular business hours.
Anyone who is homeless or experiencing a housing crisis should contact Housing Access of Washtenaw County at 734-961-1999.