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Groups serving homeless change operations to adjust to pandemic
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A man and a woman enter The Way Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Gainesville as lunch service begins at the homeless ministry. - photo by Scott Rogers

Between to-go meals and colored cards to indicate potential coronavirus infection, groups serving the homeless community in Gainesville are seeking ways to continue services while limiting physical contact.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs 2019 report on the “point in time homeless count” tallied 149 homeless in Hall County with 137 beds available.

A few staff members from West Hall High School created more than 35 laminated cards — one side red and the other side green — that were disseminated by the Ninth District Opportunity street outreach team to “local homeless encampments, families living in cars and individuals living alone in tents, as well as visitors to local days shelters,” said Ninth District Opportunity housing/program manager Michael Fisher.

If the person is suffering from the main symptoms of coronavirus — coughing, fever and/or shortness of breath — then that person is advised to put the red side out to get help.

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Three men stand outside The Way on April 2, 2020, in Gainesville prior to lunch service at the homeless ministry. - photo by Scott Rogers

If well and not suffering symptoms, then they should put the green side out.

“Having these cards visible allows community activists, churches, city/county employees, public health officials, first responders, and law enforcement an opportunity to seek assistance for the sick individual. It will also protect these workers from immediately approaching a potentially sick individual without proper precautions,” Fisher wrote in an email.

Salvation Army Lt. Andre Pereira said the shelter has been turned into a 24-hour facility to keep the population inside and safe. Normally it would run from 4:30 p.m.-7:30 a.m.

“We’ve been full most of the time just because of the situation, but we wanted to keep them inside as much as possible,” Pereira said, adding there were 22 people sheltered Wednesday.

Shelter seekers are allowed to leave, but the demand is so high that leaving would likely lead to losing one’s spot. Pereira said the Salvation Army has had to “turn a lot more people away due to not having capacity to house them.”

The governor’s order, which takes effect Friday, urges the homeless to seek shelter.

The lieutenant said there is a greater emphasis on sanitizing the space, and the food is served like to-go plates to avoid physical contact.

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Two men enter The Way Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Gainesville during lunch service at the homeless ministry. - photo by Scott Rogers

A quarantine room was also set up.

“If someone comes in with those three main symptoms of COVID-19, we’re separating them into what we call the quarantine room so they’ll be isolated. We’re dropping food there, and we get in touch with health officials and just try to coordinate with them on how to care for that client,” Pereira said.

The quarantine room has not been used as of Wednesday, April 1.

In addition to more sanitizing efforts on commonly-touched surfaces, Good News at Noon Director Ken Gossage said they have put up more hand sanitizer containers across the building and are encouraging people to wash their hands.

“We’ve got a policy now that if somebody is not feeling well that they just wait outside and we’ll bring them a boxed meal for them to take,” Gossage said, adding the demand is similar to what it was before the coronavirus outbreak.

In the shelter, men are sleeping foot to foot “so their faces are as far apart from each other as possible,” Gossage said. There are 16 people in the shelter.

Jerry Deyton, who runs The Way day center serving meals six days a week, said they are staying open strictly for the time to serve meals twice a day before cleaning up and wiping down the center.

“We’re not doing (any) hanging out all day, keeping our social distancing,” Deyton said.

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