By Madeleine List
Providence Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — As the coronavirus continues to spread across the
country and world, Gov. Gina Raimondo has given one clear message to
Rhode Islanders — stay home.
But for those with no home to stay in, the directive isn’t so simple.
great advice in this current crisis,” said Jessica Salter, chief
philanthropy officer for Amos House, a social-services agency that
manages the state’s largest soup kitchen. “It’s also an enormous amount
of privilege to be able to stay in our homes.”
Island’s homeless population is already one of the most vulnerable in
the state, said Caitlin Frumerie, executive director of the Rhode Island
Coalition for the Homeless.
Eighty to 90% of those experiencing
homelessness are smokers, making them more susceptible to serious
respiratory illness, she said. Those dealing with homelessness also have
shorter life expectancies and are less likely to have primary-care
doctors compared with those who live in stable housing.
As state officials continue to instruct people to work from
home and self isolate, Frumerie said advocates are scrambling to keep
members of the homeless population safe.
“It’s a challenging
environment for anybody right now, but if you don’t have a home, this is
yet another time when, in a way, you’re almost discriminated against
and marginalized and forgotten about,” Frumerie said.
to a state prohibition on large gatherings, Amos House is now serving
all meals from its soup kitchen to go, Salter said. The agency, which is
operating at reduced staffing levels, has also closed its main center,
where many programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, are hosted.
Simpson, 49, who was homeless for about seven months before moving into
a women’s home run by Amos House two weeks ago, said that because of
the closures, she hasn’t been able to attend her regular recovery
programs or eat in the cafeteria. Simpson, who lives with nine other
women, said she mostly spends her days reading, watching TV and doing
But with the closings of buildings such as warming
centers, public libraries, restaurants and cafes, where people used to
be able to sit for a few hours, use the bathroom and wash their hands,
many are left with nowhere to go during the day, she said.
“Now that the [Amos House] center’s closed, a lot of the homeless people don’t know what to do,” she said.
At Harrington Hall, a men’s shelter in Cranston run by Crossroads
Rhode Island, the state’s largest social-services agency serving the
homeless, staff are attempting to prevent people from staying in
different places each night by guaranteeing that those who sleep in the
shelter will have a bed there the following night, said Karen Santilli,
president and CEO of Crossroads.
Staff have been instructed to
screen people seeking services at Crossroads’ headquarters by asking
them how they’re feeling, and if they present with symptoms of COVID-19,
the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, encouraging them to
get tested, Santilli said. But, she said, staff does not have the
ability to take people’s temperatures because they don’t have
Santilli said Crossroads is working with a state
task force on homelessness and the coronavirus to find ways to transport
people to Department of Health testing facilities. So far, Crossroads
has not had any cases of COVID-19 among the people that it serves, but
Santilli said she expects that to change.
serving the homeless, House of Hope, is conducting all of its case
management via phone, and on Monday, shut down its walk-in program based
out of the Department of Human Services building in Pawtucket, said
Laura Jaworski, executive director of the agency.
For the time being, House of Hope is still running its Shower to Empower program that provides mobile showers, haircuts and medical exams to residents who need them.
the effects of the spreading coronavirus on the economy continue to
worsen, Santilli said she fears that more people will become homeless
due to job loss and evictions.
“We’re used to working with
individuals and families that are in crisis,” she said. “This is a whole
different level of crisis than we’ve ever worked in before.”
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