HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — As the threat of the coronavirus outbreak rises in Virginia and the United States, Hampton Roads residents and local churches are trying to help the homeless.
The Rev. Charles Cheek is the community networking director for the Peninsula Baptist Association. His organization works with the Jobs For Life training program. Last week they found out that some winter emergency shelters for the homeless were closing a couple of weeks early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, the organizations started a community donation drive to help get food for those who are impacted.
“They’re out on the streets and they’re vulnerable. Even though we have this coronavirus going around, we’re telling people to shelter in place. The homeless are sheltering in place where ever they can find. They don’t have nutrition,” Cheek said.
And he’s right.
10 On Your Side reached out to Hampton Roads Ecumenical Lodgings and Provisions ( HELP), which closed its winter shelter two weeks early.
HELP Director Matthew Stearn told 10 on Your Side shelter credited the decision to recommendations made by the CDC and Virginia Department of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many shelter volunteers also fall into the vulnerable category of contracting the virus.
Stearn says they and other agencies are working with those in the faith community to provide help to the homeless, but many of their clients will now go two to three days without meals because of the closures.
Cheek says around 25 individuals and organizations have already donated up to 10 carloads of supplies and $700.
“And, they’re still coming in today. People are still giving money and purchasing items. It’s a tremendous outpouring from folks. We just want to keep it up and find a facility, a vacant building we can house people in temporarily,” Cheek said.
While they look for a building, other groups like So All May Eat ministry saw low turnout at their weekly feedings.
Amy Witcover-Sandford, who is the coordinator for the program, says its been around since the 1960s. The program serves the homeless and working poor every Monday. This week they took precautions, like sanitizing all food and supplies that came in and out of the building, as well as only allowing clients to take meals to go.
While numbers were low, she doesn’t believe that will be the norm.
“I expect more people coming if this goes on for long because they’ll run out of food,” she said.
Witcover-Sandford said the organization will serve as long as it can and encourage people at home to donate and volunteer at local food banks or other organizations that are helping out.
“If you feel like you can’t do anything, you can. Call your food bank. Try your local charity, who are trying to help those living outside who have no place to wash their hands or be safe or stay at home. Call those organizations and find out how you can help financially, volunteering and do something for those who are unable to take care of themselves during this time,” Witcover-Sandford said.
Stearn says their Day Center is still open where people can come in to shower, do laundry, gain computer access, and get other basic necessities.
He encourages anyone who is not sick and at low-risk to come out and volunteer.
The Day Center’s hours are Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Stearn says in light of other significant closures, they are trying to extend hours to accommodate more people.
If you would like to donate to help the homeless, you can email the Rev. Cheek at firstname.lastname@example.org.