The Hope Haven men’s shelter in Chatham is closing due to concerns with COVID-19.
The organization issued a press release on their Facebook page on Saturday, April 11, 2020.
Chatham Hope Haven officials say with COVID-19, their board has wrestled with decisions involving safety for both the volunteers and clients, but with mounting concern about infection, a decision to close night-time operations was made.
Saturday, April 25 will be the final night Chatham Hope Haven offers accommodation, Chatham Hope Haven officials say.
“Most of Chatham’s homeless are always looking for a place to live, but finding housing they can afford is an on-going challenge,” stated Wanda Bell, general manager of Chatham Hope Haven, in the press release.
“Now with COVID-19, finding even just a room in which they can self isolate, is a matter of life and death.”
As other programs closed their doors, Chatham Hope Haven has picked up the slack by providing additional food and support, organization officials say.
They have continued to operate, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., offering beds, showers and meals, with caring volunteers assisting, but the homeless are at risk all day long as they walk about, with no where to go, Chatham Hope Haven officials say.
The library, the downtown mall, even the near-by Tim Hortons used to be places they could visit during the day, but with those all closed, the men are left outside, wandering around.
Finding a place to use the toilet is even a challenge, Chatham Hope Haven officials say.
“The list of 15 men we have created includes those who have sought 25 or more days of assistance from the haven this year, a few have approached 60 days, which is the official limit of a stay at the haven, and several have surpassed that,” Bell said.
“Our mission to advocate for the homeless remains our top priority; the way we operate in the coming months, however will change,” Bell said.
“The volunteers who now supervise in the evening will be asked to continue to help with meals and emotional support – but in a different way.”
Bell added: “Chatham Hope Haven is recognized by the government as essential, but our volunteers are integral to our mission and their lives are at risk when coming in close contact with the men we serve.”
Bell added: “The board makes this difficult decision with a heavy heart.”
Over the past few weeks several volunteers have stepped back, which is understandable considering fear of infection, Chatham Hope Haven officials say.
This has left the remaining folks stretched and doing double-duty.
In addition, recruitment of new volunteers is difficult in the best of times as the homeless are a challenging group to help, Chatham Hope Haven officials say.
In response to COVID-19, steps have been taken to make the shelter as safe as possible.
New policies include mandatory hand washing, increased sanitation practices, the use of gloves and face masks, moving beds six feet apart and reducing the number allowed to sleep back to 10, from a maximum of 14.
The closure of office hours, limiting drop-off of donations, and ending ‘to go’ bags are other measures that have aimed to reduce the number of folks coming to the building, but for an organization that depends solely on donations and fundraisers to operate, these decisions are detrimental, Chatham Hope Haven officials say.
The group are asking people to keep the haven in their prayers as they tackle “some difficult decisions” on how they will continue to serve the most vulnerable in our society.
Chatham Hope Haven officials also called on the Municipality to help.