Please help the Evanston organizations that are helping people experiencing homelessness in the time of COVID 19: wipes, soaps, disinfectant, and volunteers needed.
For those of us in Evanston who take for granted the roof over our head, a stocked refrigerator, soap, toilet paper, a couch, paid sick leave, and Netflix, it's too easy to overlook our friends and neighbors who don't have access to these luxuries--particularly our community members who are experiencing homelessness.
Yesterday, I spoke to Connections for the Homeless's Nia Tavoularis in the organization's conference room at 2121 Dewey and by phone to Sue Murphy of Interfaith Action of Evanston to find out how their organizations are working to keep their clients healthy during the COVID19 pandemic, and how each of us can support them.
People who are experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to illness since they often have underlying health conditions. "It's very difficult to manage your health, manage your medications, when you're not housed," Tavoularis said.
Of course, both organizations are doing the basics: ramping up sanitizing spaces, insisting all participants and staff follow strict hand-washing protocols, not serving communal food such as unsealed platters, cakes, loose fruit. They are both desperately in need of donations of wipes, disinfectant, and hand soap.
In addition, Connections has extended their day-time shelter drop-in hours (usually 2.5 hours) to 6.5 hours so they can allow fewer participants into the space at a time. That means extra staffing and extra pay, so financial contributions would be welcomed. The goal: reduce the amount of time people spend in close quarters while still delivering as many essential services as possible.
Connections offers gift cards to their participants to local cafes and restaurants so they can spend time inside without feeling unwelcome. Donations of gift cards would do double-duty: support our local cafes and restaurants and help our homeless neighbors.
For Interfaith Action, volunteers are much needed: they're short of greeters at their every-morning hospitality center (7 a.m. to 11 a.m.) at St. Mark's Episcopal Church and need extra volunteers at their nightly soup kitchens. Of course, financial donations are always welcomed as well.
Both organizations are working closely with Ike Ogbo, Evanston's head of Health and Human Services.
Please read on. You'll find both organizations' contact information below.
I met Nia Tavoularis at the Connections' administration office at 2121 Dewey yesterday morning. The usually bustling hub for Evanston residents who're experiencing homelessness, was quiet and empty. A staff member meets people at the door and directs them to the bathroom to wash their hands.
Connections runs its day-time drop-in services here, and its overnight shelter Hilda's Place is housed in the basement of Lake Street Church of Evanston. It offers 18 beds and nightly meals for people who identify as male. Connections has extended its day-time drop-in hours to allow a trickle of folks and avoid too many people congregation together. Hence the eerie quiet.
Connections is continuing all but one of its services--modifying and adapting them to the circumstances. They're suspending their free laundry service, though, because that means having a group of people waiting together for several hours in close quarters for their laundry to be washed and dried. They'll hold to the new protocols till the end of the month and then reevaluate.
Its daytime drop-in center is usually a place where clients can grab a sack lunch, take a nap, work on the computer, take a shower, meet with their case manager, and just hang out and congregate. But now, Tavoularis explains, the office can't be used as a respite space.
"People can still come in, but we're limiting the number of people--two to three at a time--taking care of their needs, a shower, lunch, a visit with a case manager, and then they're moving out," Tavoularis said. That way Connections can keep people coming in and getting their needs met, but these days, they can't stay.
Luckily, at least the weather is cooperating and allowing people to be outside. "That creates a natural space for social distancing," Tavoularis said.
Those without homes are also seeking safe space at the Evanston Public Library, or at places such as Panera and Burger King, Tavoularis said.
"We need to be supportive of that, and understand that that's what our community is doing right now to best serve its homeless community who can't congregate where they normally would, which is in our drop-in centers," Tavoularis explained.
"If we had an outbreak of COVID 19 in our shelter, there'd be no place for our participants to go," she said. "And if those people don't have a place to go, we're not doing our work."
Any participant who shows signs of illness will be isolated and Connections will work with the City to determine next steps. The organization is in touch with Erie Health Center and St. Francis Hospital to determine what steps to take should a participant be ill.
"We don't want to run homeless people out of spaces because if they are actually sick with COVID 19 and they go out, we can't find them," Tavoularis said.
At Hilda's Place, every night of the year, volunteers usually enjoy arriving with food they've purchased, which they cook in the shelter's kitchen and sit down to eat together with their guests. Now, they're being asked to cook in their own kitchens (after ensuring no-one at home is ill) and bring the food over for participants to eat.
Last night, I spoke to Interfaith Action of Evanston director Sue Murphy by phone.
IAE's emergency shelter, which is housed at a different church or synagogue each night, offers 40 beds and is usually full. It's is scheduled to close at the end of March.
"We're doing everything we can to keep it open that long," Murphy said. Organizers are being very strict with hand sanitizer and extra aware of sanitizing cots and surfaces.
"If someone exhibits symptoms, we send them to the hospital," Murphy said. "We just spoke with Ike [Ogbo, Evanston's heath and human services head]. He is checking on where we can send people if they need to be quarantined."
The organization, which comprises many of Evanston's faith communities, also runs a hospitality center from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., Monday through Friday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 1509 Ridge Ave., where people get breakfast and have a place to nap. In addition, job counselors are on hand for guests seeking employment, and computer trainers assist with online applications and resumes.
Murphy said that many of IAE's volunteers are older and probably shouldn't be volunteering right now. They're in great need of help, so if you're younger and healthy, please step up.
IAE also offers a soup kitchen every night of the week, warming centers, and an emergency shelter that's open every night through late March.
Usually, each soup kitchen is staffed by volunteers who prepare and serve food to guests for a sit-down meal.
"We've changed the meals to to-go meals that volunteers will hand out at the door so participants aren't in a confined space," Murphy told me.
Murphy said she's grateful for the guidance her organization is receiving from Connections.
The soup kitchens are also in dire need of volunteers.
PLEASE HELP ...
-- Contact Nia Tavoularis at email@example.com or (847) 475-7070
-- Drop off disinfectant wipes/sprays/soaps to 2121 Dewey
-- Drop of a check or cash to 2121 Dewey or Donate here.
-- Drop off gift cards for local cafes and restaurants at 2121 Dewey
FOR INTERFAITH ACTION OF EVANSTON:
-- Contact Sue Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 847-869-0370 to volunteer
-- Drop off disinfectant wipes/sprays/soaps at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 1509 Ridge any morning from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Social distancing can bring our community closer!
[photo: Nia Tavoularis at Connections' administrative offices, 2121 Dewey]