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‘We’re All Working Together To Help Serve the Population’

Caitlin Rodocker helps to prepare and box meals at the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling this week.

WHEELING — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a plethora of financial, physical, emotional and economic stress on the population. When the pandemic will end is still up in the air, but much uncertainty still grips the region, especially for the local homeless population.

“With the homeless population, there is just as much uncertainty with them as there with all the rest of us, except they can’t shelter at home and they’re still living in tents,” Youth Social Services spokeswoman Betsy Bethel-McFarland said. “And even beyond living in tents part, there are homeless who are sleeping on other people’s couches and I’m not sure 100% if that is happening as much. People are concerned about spreading the virus. I think there are more people living in tents because of that.”

With social distancing being a huge factor, YSS is only allowing staff in their administrative building. John Moses, the CEO, still goes in every day to help out as much as he can.

He has been receiving a variety forms of communication on what items people need and will leave it out front for them to pick it up.

“We are not allowing visitors or anybody in the building that doesn’t work there,” Bethel said. “But people have been calling and they have been coming to the door in handing a note saying what they need. We still have hygiene products, clothes and shoes. So, people having calling him (Moses), they’ve been emailing and they will tell him what they need. He will get it for them and leave it out front. People are definitely still coming to the door and with our winter freeze shelter being closed now, we’re working really closely with other agencies in the community like Street MOMs, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the Soup Kitchen (of Greater Wheeling). We’re all working together to help serve the population.”

A hygiene station opened Thursday on 18th Street across from Catholic Neighborhood Center with portable toilets, camp supplies, hygiene products and clothing. Community members and YSS are provided the clothing and hygiene supplies.

A shower trailer also has been set up there, which includes four stalls and is disinfected with bleach after each person showers. The shower trailer was made possible by the American Baptist Men and Lutheran Community Partners, along with Catholic Charities, the city of Wheeling, House of Hagar and Street MOMs. Laundry facilities will be available there starting next week.

“When all the social services closed their doors for safety reasons due to the coronavirus, there was no place for the population we serve to use the restroom or wash their hands, let along shower,” said Kate Marshall, director of House of Hagar, a Wheeling nonprofit with the mission to creatively find solutions to care for people in need through works of mercy.

With many other services providers having to scale back services, the Salvation Army has elevated it’s profile in services, specially its food services.

“We’ve done a couple of things. In direct assistance through our pantry, the last two days we have seen upwards of 100 families representing 300 people come into our office for food assistance,” Capt. Mark Van Meter said. “A lot of those are connected to the COVID crises because either kids are home or the parents have been laid off their work. So they come into the salvation army for food assistance.”

Because of an absence of meal services later in the evening, Van Meter also stated that the Salvation Army has started serving food off of their service truck from the thrift store parking lot. For about a week, it has been serving meals every evening and also breakfast on Sunday morning to fill the slot. Van Meter stated they see anywhere between 20-25 people a night.

The Salvation Army has also been practicing some precautionary measures in terms of social distancing along with some other factors as well.

“Just in the last couple of days, we’ve been really trying to evaluate the individuals we’ve been allowing into the shelter. For a while we were having guys coming in on buses from California, New York and some of the hot spots. For other reasons, not necessarily COVID, they were not eligible to stay in the shelter. They didn’t have ID and for other reasons. We really found ourselves in a spot of trying to figure out how we deal with this. We try to be more selective on who to come in to the shelter. When people come into the building, we’re having them sanitize their hands, try to minimize the amount of people coming into the building. So, we’re trying to be much more cautious of the flow of traffic come in and out of the building.”

The Salvation Army was supposed to close for a brief period to start renovations, but it has not started the process yet. It will continue to shelter people and are still in the process of raising money.

The pandemic has caused a financial crisis as more that 16 million Americans have lost their jobs in three weeks.

Bethel-McFarland said YSS has leased three apartments in Wheeling for people and also has a couple of families in hotel rooms. Those living arrangements were supposed to be temporary, but the the COVID-19 pandemic has extended it with so few job options available now.

“They were working towards getting on their feet again, but COVID-19 crisis caused them to lose their jobs and they’re not able to get back on their feet,” Bethel-McFarland said.

“A lot of these people have service industry jobs,” Bethel-McFarland added. “Even if they’re homeless, they may have been working towards getting a down payment for an apartment, but they’re not doing that anymore. Everything’s kind of like on hold for a lot of people, not just the homeless, but definitely including the homeless.”

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