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Homeless Shelters Overcome COVID Challenges to Meet High Demand, Thanks to Hard Work and 'God's Miracles'


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A surge in COVID-19 cases coupled with plunging temperatures has led to greater safety measures for homeless shelters across the country. Some must limit the number of people they can help during the pandemic when the need is even greater than usual.
"We have not missed a beat, but every beat has changed," James Winans, president and CEO of The Bowery Mission told CBN News. "Bowery Mission never shut down."

The Bowery Mission, a Christian shelter in New York City, first opened to the city's homeless in 1879.

Earlier this year, the Big Apple became ground zero in the battle against the coronavirus, forcing the Bowery Mission to change procedures.

"On March 15th we were serving meals indoors in our dining hall around tables," explained Winans. "On March 16th we were serving meals outdoors to go on a socially distanced line. It was an incredible adjustment."

Winans said the change comes just as needs have grown.

"We saw double the number of people coming for meals than we were used to serving," Winans said. "We would often open our doors to 250 people," he said. "Now we have 500 on the line. And these were folks not necessarily experiencing homelessness. These were folks who had recently lost jobs. They had no income, and they were looking for emergency food."

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Further south, Union Mission Ministries, in operation for 125 years in Norfolk, Virginia, has also made adjustments.

"The big, large gatherings that rescue missions are known for on Thanksgiving Day had to be shuttered," explained Rev. John Gray, Union Mission Executive Director. "We passed out tickets with numbers and we fed in shifts."

Gray explained that the Union Mission can only fill half its normal 400 bed capacity.  And earlier this year, they had to turn some people away.
"It was mainly people that were coming from other states and we just encouraged them to stay where they were and seek resources," said Gray.  "Frankly, we had to make the decision, it just was the most prudent thing to do."

With its doors still open, the Mission continues to extend a helping hand to those in need, while miraculously keeping COVID at bay. 

"We've been discussing as a staff additional resources where we may need to put someone in a private or independent setting because of needing to social distance and do those things and what other resources that we may be able to partner with the city," explained Gray. 

For the Bowery, running five locations during the pandemic has been especially difficult.

"We did eventually add some spacing to our dormitories," said Winans. "We did a lot of cleaning."

He said there have been a few flare-ups.

"We have had both staff and guests experience COVID," Winans explained. "But we have not had any community spread. We are so grateful, and we consider that a bit of God's miracles."

To keep cases down, residents are given daily temperature checks and hygiene has become top priority.

"We have a modified van that stops in front of the Bowery Mission every day with two private shower units in it," said Winans. "People are able to get clean, get a clean set of clothes. We have hand washing stations at our locations."

As the whole country battles a resurgence of the virus, both The Bowery Mission and Union Mission Ministries stand ready to serve their cities' most vulnerable.

"We at the Bowery Mission know that there are thousands of New Yorkers who do not have a home and we were not going to leave them behind," said Winans.

"I've been here for thirty years, we're in the helping business and if you ask us to not help, we really can't," said Gray.  

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About The Author

Charlene Aaron

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter, backup news anchor, and co-host of The Prayerlink on the CBN News Channel. She covers various social issues, such as abortion, gender identity, race relations, and more. Before joining CBN News in 2003, she was a personal letter writer for Dr. Pat Robertson. Charlene attended Old Dominion University and Elizabeth City State University. She is an ordained minister and pastor’s wife. She lives in Smithfield, VA, with her husband.