For the past several months, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has sparked a well-documented surge in COVID-19 cases nationally. At Shepherd’s Table, outbreaks among staff and clients forced our programs into reduced services through the month of January. Now, we’re taking a closer look at the impact of the surge on Progress Place (the building from which Shepherd’s Table and Interfaith Works both operate) to understand how such crises affect our clients and how they can best be served.
In late December, Progress Place saw the first significant surge of COVID-19 cases among staff and clients that we’ve seen since the onset of the pandemic. In response, the entire building went into lockdown for two weeks.
Despite the alarming and sudden spread of the new variant, the Progress Place team had the appropriate preparations in place. We’ve had long-standing rhythms of weekly COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, working through the county and organized by Kacy Barker, Program Director at Interfaith Works. While some clients are still uncomfortable with these measures, many have slowly come around to the idea of getting vaccinated and have chosen to do so. Barker explains that leveraging incentives like gift cards and desserts has been helpful in ensuring weekly testing and vaccinations run smoothly. Thanks to these measures, Interfaith Works was able to quickly identify and contact-trace residents who contracted COVID-19 and quarantined these guests in nearby hotels.
Jerome Chambers, Director of Social Services at Shepherd’s Table, explains that two years into the pandemic, staff members know how to anticipate needs. “Now, we know how to be proactive,” he shares. We were able to prepare supplies clients might need, such as winter coats and gloves, and distribute them from the parking lot before the snowstorms began to strike. When asked how clients processed the news of the Progress Place lockdown, Chambers explained, “For our clients, it’s about survival skills. They’re focused on their daily needs, and the basic need is unchanged: food and shelter.” Clients depend on Shepherd’s Table to provide fresh, hot meals every single day of the year, and providing that consistency is a critical part of our work.
“We were able to apply the lessons learned earlier on in the pandemic,” Barker shares, echoing the sentiment that given the circumstances, this was the best time in the past two years to experience a breakthrough in COVID-19 cases. Thanks to the measures Progress Place has taken to protect clients and staff, this was the first time the building experienced a surge of COVID-19 cases and there has not been a single COVID-19 related death.
Still, a major impact of the lockdown was the weakened mental health of clients. Barker explains, “You [already] lose a lot of your control and freedom when you’re experiencing homelessness.” The added limitations of a lockdown can impact behavioral health and create anxiety for shelter residents. For some, a spike in COVID-19 cases translates to lost housing. Some individuals experiencing housing insecurity can stay with a friend or rent a room, but such options may be lost if the owner of the space no longer feels comfortable hosting additional residents under heightened risk of COVID-19.
At Progress Place, we take seriously the needs of our clients and their dependency on our ability to provide. Even as the surge of cases in January forced the building into lockdown and reduced services from both Shepherd’s Table and Interfaith Works, services never stopped.
We will continue to reliably meet needs at Progress Place to subvert crises for our clients.