Kentucky Homeless Face Increased Challenges in Time of Coronavirus
Government and health care leaders are advising Kentucky residents to "stay healthy at home" to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
One Bowling Green nonprofit is adjusting the way it's providing services to Kentuckians who don’t have a home during the pandemic.
Room In The Inn Bowling Green is continuing to offer homeless individuals a variety of services, including computer access to apply for jobs, unemployment benefits, educational programs, and videoconferencing for health care.
"We've had several people that I've helped to apply for unemployment benefits online. And then we're also finding people who had education plans that they were just getting started on and everything, just kind of came to a screeching halt for them," said Program Coordinator Sharli Rogers.
"When we thought we had a plan for someone with case management, we're having to shift that plan and do some workarounds, and figure it out in a new way," she said.
The need to limit interactions during the pandemic means Rogers is the only staff person currently in the office assisting the homeless.
“We’re actually only allowing four individuals to come into our space at any given time. That’s so we can have plenty of space there for social distancing," said Rogers. "We’re also providing folks with masks if they need them.”
The center had a stock of paper masks, which are running out, but community members have been assisting in getting, or sewing, cloth masks.
"We have handwashing available and lots of pumps of hand sanitizer," said Rogers. "I'm coming through all the time with my wipes and wiping everything down. The smell of bleach pervades everything, it seems like. It's a whole new era."
Room In The Inn volunteers are now providing assistance from their homes, like preparing bag lunches that homeless clients pick up during the day or coordinating a clothing drive on Facebook.
During the winter months, Room In The Inn coordinates an evening meal and overnight sleeping accomodations for the homeless with Bowling Green area churches. But the situation has grown especially dire for Kentuckians who are homeless, especially now that it’s spring and overnight shelters are limited or nonexistent.
Rogers said the nonprofit has been serving between 12 and 20 homeless individuals a day, four at a time.
She said people who come in are screened to make sure they're not showing any symptoms of the coronavirus.
“You know, imagine, when they’re telling us to go home and stay healthy at home, imagine not having a home that you can go home to, to stay healthy," said Rogers. "It’s scary, you know. They’re scared. They’re worried about these sorts of things because they don’t have the protection of being able to go in four walls and stay in four walls."
According to the most recent data available from K-Count, the annual statewide count coordinated by the Kentucky Housing Corporation, about 4,000 people in the Bluegrass State are homeless.