When the coronavirus first entered our consciousness at the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place, many people, myself included, worried that the homeless community would be decimated.
After all, we were sheltering more than 100 people at night, many of them older and medically fragile. Social distancing seemed an impossibility.
Because our guests tend to spend the better part of their day roaming the city, we also worried that someone who was infected could easily and inadvertently spread the virus around town. Like everyone else who has faced this pandemic head on, we had to learn to pivot on a dime.
Thanks to Anchorum St. Vincent, the Thornburg Foundation, the Frost Foundation, the Kind World Foundation, the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the city and county of Santa Fe and many, many individuals and businesses too numerous to name here, we have been able to meet the financial demands placed on us by this pandemic: purchasing food and hiring staff to replace the bulk of our volunteer force (who have needed to stay at home during the pandemic) and housing the majority of our guests in a motel to create social distancing.
The shelter has moved 46 guests to a local motel and another 20 or so to the midtown campus dormitories. The remaining 20-25 individuals — those whose mental health or substance-use issues mean they require more support and supervision — have remained in our building.
By shrinking the number of people in our building and offering alternative places to stay, we have created social distancing for a large chunk of Santa Fe’s homeless population. Keeping guests in the building helps us identify and provide assistance for guests who are ill much more quickly than if they were on the streets.
Furthermore, by taking everyone’s temperature who enters our building, we can send guests for COVID-19 testing and a place to self-isolate. So far, we have had 15 guests and three staffers tested for COVID-19. I am happy to say that all have tested negative.
For the time being, the aspect of the shelter that we love the most — the community feel created by our staff and almost 2,000 active volunteers — has taken a back burner, but our homeless guests are receiving the services they need to survive.
We feel like we are living in a strange, new world. How will all of this unwind? None of us know for sure. There are no guarantees in this world, but I do want everyone to know that the Interfaith Community Shelter is doing its part to keep our guests and the larger community safe and well.