Sheltering in place with nowhere to go

Mar 24, 2020

March 24, 2020 — The shelter in place order from the state and the county is especially hard on people staying in homeless shelters. At Building Bridges, the homeless resource center in Ukiah, distancing protocols were in place for the overnight shelter; handwashing stations were conspicuous; and fomites were being disinfected relentlessly.  But for people living on the streets, social distancing is not an option — especially during a crisis. 

It’s not safe for homeless people to be alone, and the community is based on sharing meager resources. With businesses closed down, it’s harder to come in out of the rain, linger over a cup of coffee, find odd jobs — or even buy food. And sheltering in place is meaningless, if, as Maxx Cauley noted, “I have nowhere to go. I can either sit out here at the shelter in the daytime...and get wet and cold, or I can walk up and down the streets. But either way, I’m still exposed to being able to catch this COVID-19. And that’s a scary thought, because I’m around a lot more people than the typical average person. And I’m around a lot more people who are compromised as well...all kinds of people. And my environment is a very dangerous environment.”

That’s especially worrisome for Catherine and William Phillips. They’re staying at Building Bridges with Mrs. Phillips’ 13-year-old daughter, Alma Justice. As the afternoon grew colder, they gathered underneath a shade canopy, keeping company with an elderly woman. Another woman nearby spread a blanket out on the concrete as she knitted a large green afghan.

“We can’t go anywhere,” said Mrs. Phillips, echoing Collie’s concerns over the feasibility of sheltering in place. “But if we do go anywhere, we don’t have any restrictions, like other people do.”

Mr. Phillips added, “They’re telling everybody basically stay home, just to take the precaution, so gather up supplies as far as food or drinks, water, whatever you might be going to get. Well, we don’t have that luxury.”

In addition to not having a place to go and worrying about being able to get food, it’s hard on the whole family that Alma can’t be in school. She stays close to her mother and stepfather, and keeps a careful eye on her ChromeBook, which bears a sticker that one of her teachers gave her. “That’s how I know my teacher cares about me,” she said. “I kind of get worried about my friends and teachers.”

For her mother, the precautions from the virus can be more stressful than the virus itself. Asked if she’s able to take any safety measures, she said, “No.”