Prioritizing the Health and Safety of the Homeless

NJHI 2018: Upstream Action Acceleration Pulling Together: All Voices Heard and Count!
Our Assistant Housing Director with some of our housing residents.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be not only to have to adjust to all the changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, but to do so while homeless or housing insecure? That’s a reality our housing residents live with every day.

Our YMCA is the largest emergency housing provider in Union County, New Jersey. Every day we run three emergency shelters, two transitional housing programs and an affordable housing program. When the shelter-in-place orders began last year, our residents lost jobs, became food insecure and struggled to access mainstream resources in a world-turned-remote overnight. In response, we immediately shifted our priorities to the safety and well-being of our housing residents and staff.

Cleaning services were hired to sanitize the common areas of the five housing facilities twice each day to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff and residents received daily temperature checks and regular COVID-19 testing; they also received personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves for safety. Within the housing buildings themselves, our team reduced the amount of furniture in the lounge areas, and installed barriers and hand sanitizer stations in sleeping areas and staff offices. Signs displaying new social distancing guidelines and elevator/room capacity limits were posted to remind residents of the new procedures. Residents also received weekly COVID reminders and updates as the CDC updated its health and safety guidelines.

We’re proud to say this combination of actions kept our housing facilities open, safe and ready to meet the increased demand for shelter during the pandemic—over 300 men, women, and children of all ages and from all walks of life were safely sheltered each night throughout 2020! We couldn’t have done this work without the incredible generosity and support of grant funders such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives program. Their funding supported new operational costs, including those of our daily cleaning services, which kept our residents and staff physically safe and healthy and gave them emotional comfort and a sense of stability during uncertain times. From the bottom of our hearts, we’re truly grateful for all the support we’ve received—together, we’ve been able to keep Union County residents who are experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity protected and connected during an unpredictable pandemic.

The Grantee Blog regularly publishes updates from NJHI-supported communities. Bookmark this site to stay up-to-date and share in the work of building healthier communities across New Jersey.
Rachel Niemczyk
The Gateway Family YMCA