As government and health leaders encourage social distancing while the novel coronavirus pandemic unfolds, homeless shelters in New Jersey still aim to serve as a safety net for those with no place else to go.

So they're taking on special measures and listening to federal guidance in order to maximize the safety of staff, volunteers, and the homeless population they serve — all operating in close quarters.

"We are continually holding house government meetings," said Kathy White, senior vice president of program operations and human resources for Volunteers of America Delaware Valley. "We meet with not only our staff but our clients, to make sure they're up to date on how this virus is spreading, and what precautions they need to take."

The chapter's six shelters/transitional living facilities house over 1,000 individuals each year. All programs have infectious disease policies in place, White said — updates may be needed, though, for the public health crisis at hand.

"I would say that this virus is going to impact every single person that we serve, and our staff," White added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines available specifically for homeless service providers. The agency's recommendations spell out strategies for before, during and after a coronavirus outbreak.

As part of the guidance, providers are told to put their "emergency plan in action" should cases or clusters of COVID-19 disease be reported in their community. It's recommended that beds/mats in general sleeping areas be at least 3 feet apart, and that clients sleep head to toe. Providers are urged to confine clients with symptoms and follow CDC recommendations for how to prevent further spread.

A COVID-19 sheet produced by Family Promise of Bergen County says if a guest develops fever, cough, sore throat and/or other flu-like symptoms, they will be isolated from other guests. If symptoms continue, they'll be advised to visit a doctor. A staff member presenting symptoms will be asked to stay home.

 

At Market Street Mission in Morristown, and Jersey Shore Rescue Mission in Asbury Park, clients are getting reeducated on basic hygiene and hand-washing. There's a close eye on CDC guidelines, while shelter and meal programs continue as usual.

"If we close, there's a lot of people that are not going to have any services," said David Scott, executive director of both locations.

Scott said cleaning and disinfecting procedures are increasing at both facilities, and volunteer involvement has been limited a bit.

"We'll implement further actions should they be required," Scott said.

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