Homeless during COVID — how NJ shelters kept a roof over the heads of those in need
Homeless shelters in New Jersey are bracing themselves for an uptick in the number of people who need their services. But so far they've held their own during a global pandemic that continues to deliver new waves of uncertainty.
Because of the services they provide, shelters didn't have much of a choice but to keep on running through the initial period of capacity restrictions and business shutdowns, and beyond — people need help every day, and people need a place to sleep every night.
"We've never turned anybody away, which is an amazing thing, even though we've had to reduce our capacity," said Bob Franklin, partnership development officer for Atlantic City Rescue Mission.
Normal capacity at the shelter along Bacharach Boulevard would be 300, but that's down to about 150 because of the COVID-19 threat, Franklin said.
Demand for the homeless shelter actually decreased over the pandemic. Franklin said that likely had a lot to do with eviction moratoriums put in place because of the public health emergency.
Franklin said the shelter is "anticipating a pretty big influx" of individuals now that the moratorium has lifted and landlords are permitted to go through the eviction process.
Jersey Shore Rescue Mission, located in Asbury Park, stopped with new intakes for about two weeks because of the latest COVID surge caused by the omicron variant. But the emergency shelter is "at a good place" right now, according to George Moussab, chief operating officer.
"We are not maxed out right now in terms of our numbers, but I have a feeling in the next couple weeks we'll see demand," Moussab said.
The shelter on Carroll Street is licensed to sleep 40 people, including interns and long-term residents. They're currently accepting 15 to 20 people per night for emergency stays, so that individuals can be socially distanced and sleep "head to toe," Moussab said.
The coronavirus threat forced the introduction of numerous safety measures that still exist today at shelters, in order to limit the potential for outbreaks among clients and staff.
"There's a million things different — masks, plexiglass, handwashing stations, temperature checks, COVID screenings, you name it ... but we have never for one day stopped providing services to the homeless," said Barrett Young, chief executive officer at the Rescue Mission of Trenton.
Demand for beds didn't spike during the pandemic, Young said. They have enough beds for 100 people, plus a warming center for overflow demand.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.