As the state gradually reopens, we all seem to know at the visceral level that we are still safer at home, providing we are privileged enough to have one. As our economies and new routines re-emerge, how will we be with one another in our new reality? Will people living in poverty be afforded the same protections as those of us with a bit more privilege?
In the very early days of March, our Board of Directors and staff assessed the threat of COVID-19 to the community we serve, our staff and the greater public. Our service center includes shower, laundry facilities and a drop-in center where over 200 people a day visit, congregate and meet while seeking walk-in medical care, food, housing and other social services.
We made a difficult — and informed — decision that we believe has helped keep our community safer. We temporarily closed the service center. You may not be aware that in the summer of 2018 the Kanawha Charleston Health Department and the WV Bureau of Public Health recommended the temporary closing of Covenant House shower and laundry facilities to stop the spread of hepatitis A. COVID-19 represents an exponentially greater threat to our community
The population Covenant House serves is highly vulnerable by compromised health and co-morbidities. More recently we have learned that the African American community is even more disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus.
Over 25% of the guests using the service center are African American. One-third of the Covenant House staff are African American; 75% of the Covenant House staff rank in the high-risk category. We believe the decision we made early in March has helped keep transmission in our community low and saved the lives of some of our most vulnerable residents.
While our staff returns to our offices, our case managers never stopped providing opportunities for permanent housing and prevented evictions for our neighbors, many who may have taken your order and served food to your tables only two months ago.
The service center only will remain closed until we are confident our reopening will not pose a threat of transmission of the COIVD-19 virus. As of this writing, the homeless community, while receiving screenings, remains largely untested. WV Health Right will soon conduct widespread testing of residential homeless and domestic violence shelters in the City of Charleston, representing some of the most vulnerable and high-risk residents in society.
We all know just how essential testing is. We know now that one cannot effectively fight the COVID-19 pandemic without widespread testing to find out who has the disease, and where they got it.
At the same time, we have also learned and watched unfold the tragedies within nursing homes in West Virginia and around the country. This is congregate living. Congregate living and opportunities for congregate activities pose the greatest threat to the well-being of our community. We appreciate the comprehensive testing of nursing home residents and staff ordered by Gov. Jim Justice. We hope he will order the same for the populations in the correctional institutions.
Until wide-spread testing is available, Covenant House staff and resources will be focused on homelessness prevention, permanent supportive housing and improving food security. The laundry and shower facilities will reopen when we are confident we can prevent congregate activity in and around our neighborhood — and keep the community we serve safe.
Covenant House advocates and case managers will continue to prevent evictions, rapidly rehouse those who are experiencing homelessness and provide nutritious food for those in need during this extraordinary time.
Since March, we have provided $110,269 in direct rent and utility payments for 196 West Virginians to prevent homelessness. We have provided 11,514 pounds of groceries for 1,514 individuals over the past eight weeks.
For 39 years we have acted out of the best interest of people living in poverty, and even on the streets. During the last decade — and especially more recently — we have adapted our services to reflect the emerging needs of our community.
We do not deny that we live, write and speak from a place of privilege. It is incumbent upon us to work toward justice for all and dedicate our considerable resources, earned trust and goodwill of our community to make life better for those who need us the most.