Coronavirus in close quarters? How a local homeless shelter is preparing for a possible outbreak

‘We’ve got to be here because they’ve got no place else to go’

ROANOKE, Va. – A homeless shelter in Roanoke is taking precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Roanoke Rescue Mission has 400 beds for the homeless population in the Roanoke Valley, there’s no question that it’s close quarters.

CEO Lee Clark said the homeless shelter is open 24/7 and hundreds of people stay there every night. They serve around 700 meals a day. Despite the coronavirus, they can’t close their doors.

“It’s very concerning,” Clark said. "We’ve got to be here because they’ve got no place else to go.”

The shelter is limiting access to just a few entrances, adding hand-washing stations outside the building and adding hand sanitizing stations inside.

Workers are also screening everyone, including guests and volunteers, for fevers and travel history.

“We’re making sure that if there is a virus, or flu, or any other contagious disease, that it’s caught quickly and not spread to other guests," Clark said.

Since so many people come in and out, they already have good cleaning procedures in place. Clark said they’re just increasing the frequency of cleanings.

This Wednesday marks Howard Conklin‘s anniversary in the shelter’s addiction recovery program. He said he’s being extra careful to stay in his room as much as possible.

“Sanitizing door knobs, you know, the dresser knobs, wearing gloves when I’m working with the guests, washing my hands in between," Conklin said.

The shelter is hurting though. It’s spring break and numerous volunteer groups that typically come from all over the country have canceled.

“We definitely could use more volunteers,” Clark said. "So those good, healthy, local folks who haven’t been out of the country who maybe have some extra time on their hands, we would love to have them volunteer.”

The shelter works closely with Carilion and other health care partners so that if someone is sick they can get them the medical care they need. The shelter also has rooms available to quarantine guests and in an emergency, they can be taken to a hospital.

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