As libraries, restaurants and public buildings have closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people experiencing homelessness have increasingly fewer places to seek shelter and safety.
In the western suburbs, the nonprofit agency BEDS Plus and others are opening emergency shelters to shield their clients during the ever-evolving coronavirus epidemic.
As of March 18, BEDS Plus will consolidate its shelter operations to one location.
“At this time, we are not publicly disclosing the location of our consolidated shelter site. Per CDC guidelines, we cannot accommodate more than 50 clients and our current system capacity already is at 75 beds per night,” said Valerie Vedral, BEDS Plus social media strategist.
BEDS Plus serves Brookfield, LaGrange and Western Springs among many other communities in the south and west suburbs.
According to Vedral, BEDS Plus has given elderly and immune-compromised clients motel vouchers.
“BEDS is paying the cost of a month-long stay at motels for our most vulnerable clients and families to reduce our shelter population as much as we can,” Vedral said.
Staff is regularly checking in on those housed clients to ensure they have medical supplies and food. They have also referred clients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to medical care.
“Diverting those clients will allow us to accommodate no more than 50 clients at our consolidated shelter site, which is spacious enough to allow for appropriate social distancing during a night of shelter,” said Vedral. “BEDS also has tapped into a $100,000 reserve fund to pay for temporary housing and other needs during this coronavirus pandemic.”
BEDS Plus cannot accept new clients until space becomes available. Potential new clients must have documentation proving they have not been infected.
BEDS Plus is utilizing the guidelines issued for shelters by the CDC and U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to safely address COVID-19.
The organization is encouraging those who need help not to call 708-354-0858 instead of showing up at one of its day centers. People interested in volunteering should also contact that number.
As new information becomes available, BEDS Plus will update its Facebook page, Twitter account and website.
“People who are homeless are among the most vulnerable population,” said Erik Johnson, director of development and communications for Housing Forward, which serves homeless individuals seeking shelter in Oak Park, Forest Park, Berwyn and Maywood.
To prevent contracting and spreading the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has directed people to practice social distancing and self-isolation – nearly impossible to do without a stable living situation.
“It’s critically important we respond effectively to this and figure out the ways we safeguard everyone’s protection to the maximum of our capacity,” said Johnson.
Housing Forward clients can call 1-888-338-1744. Those who would like to volunteer with Housing Forward should call 708-338-1724.
“It is our mission and our moral obligation to respond as vigorously as we can, while at the same time safeguarding the safety and protection of not only our clients, but our staff and volunteers,” Johnson said.
Housing Forward is anticipating a greater need for volunteers and welcomes healthy people to get involved.
“We do need help,” said Johnson. “And we are so grateful for people who are willing to help us during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.”