Pandemic Exacerbates Challenges of Homelessness
It’s one thing to “shelter in place” when you have a place to go. It’s quite another thing to be homeless, like many families and children in Ulster County, and have no space of your own during a pandemic. The place to which such homeless individuals and families and single mothers with children have turned, the Family Inn in Kingston, is a warm and welcoming shelter from the storm. It’s also one that needs assistance as it faces new stresses brought on by Covid 19.
“They’re an incredible organization that provides food, shelter, job training, housing assistance, daycare, parenting classes, medical assistance — but they need help,” said Colleen Geraghty of New Paltz, who has done outreach for both the Family Inn homeless shelter and Family’s domestic violence shelter for the past 31 years. “There are so many people living below the poverty line and almost no affordable housing in Kingston. Look how much it costs to rent an apartment in New Paltz. You have four or five people splitting the cost for one apartment! People cannot afford rent on minimum-wage jobs. And then if you lose a job? Or a partner?”
Nothing of their own
The public-health crisis has turned the socioeconomic divide into a crater-sized gap. “When children come into any shelter, they’re often traumatized,” she said, “whether it’s from a domestic violence situation, loss of a parent, or because they’ve lost their home. They have little to nothing that’s their own, and so the staff members try and make them feel safe.”
Because of the hygiene regulations for used items put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and New York State Department of Health, the shelter can only take new items, and it’s in dire need, according to Geraghty. “They need new bedding, sheets, pillows, comforters, towels, pajamas, baby formula, diapers, socks, underwear in all sizes.” The list goes on. “Until you have your basic needs met with food, shelter, and clothing, it’s hard to feel safe and to move forward.”
Add to that the social-distancing rules put in place since the novel coronavirus hit New York this spring. “We usually have between 27 and 35 residents at a time,” said Family Inn director Beatriz Valencia. “But right now, we have less, because we can no longer put anyone who is not an immediate family in a room together. If we had two single females, we could have them room together, or two single mothers with children; but right now, we can’t do that.”
The Family Inn staff and the residents “have worked together to make sure that everyone is being safe: washing our hands, hand sanitizer, cleaning and wiping down all surfaces, wearing masks. Everyone has been so cooperative, and right now this is one of the cleanest, safest places you could be.”
Another challenge is to provide children and adults with access to the Internet and computers. “That’s so important now, with the children not being able to go to school and having to do their homework online. We also have clients that need to keep appointments with their doctors and therapists, and most of that has been through telemedical appointments,” added Valencia.