Executive Director Myra Garlit says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to some major changes in the way Crossroads Mission operates.
Now, nearly two months later, she said she is still struggling with those decisions, wondering if they were the right ones for the city’s homeless population and the community.
“We are still taking care of people, just in a different way now,” Garlit said. “I feel really bad, but we have clients here who are in poor health and others who are in the very high-risk population, so we had an obligation to ensure their well being as well.”
Garlit explained that when Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order in March requiring Arizona residents to “Stay Home,” she told everyone at the mission that they could stay as long as they wanted, but if they chose to leave, they could not come back.
Her rationale, she added, was that they would be safer at the mission than on the streets, which would likely reduce their risk of exposure to the highly-contagious disease, and it would be easier for them to get needed medical care if they were to get sick.
Most stayed, as expected, but a few decided to leave after a few days. However, when they returned several days later, they were not allowed inside.
“I guess they thought we wouldn’t stick to it,” Garlit said.
But that doesn’t mean they weren’t receiving assistance, or going hungry. The mission is still serving three meals a day, but instead of doing it in the shelter’s dining room they are doing it outside the facility.
“We call it curbside service. We feed about 15 people breakfast every morning, about 20 for lunch, and between 25 and 30 dinners,” Garlit said. “If they need blankets, we give them blankets. If they need water, we give them water.”
There are currently more than 100 people staying at the mission, and while it is has been impossible to completely isolate when everyone is sharing living spaces, the mission is doing the best it can under the circumstances.
In addition to following preventative guidelines established by the CDC, the mission is also emphasizing the “continual practice” of cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces, restrooms and common areas multiple times a day. Wellness checks are also conducted several times throughout the day.
Staff is also wearing face covers and gloves at all times. Residents are being encouraged to do so as well, although some are not. Several rooms have also been set aside for quarantine purposes in case someone were to develop flu-like symptoms.
Furthermore, the mission has asked about 20 of its volunteers, who were struggling with how to best protect their own health and that of their family, to take a break from their service until after the outbreak is over.
While there have been no cases of coronavirus at the mission, Garlit said one person who was staying there did get tested. However, he left the mission before his test results came back.
“This is not a locked facility,” Garlit said. “We can’t force anyone to stay, but we do everything we can to try to convince them to not to go.”
Making matters worse, the mission has had to contend with the closing of the family shelter. A rainstorm in March caused the sewer to back up, flooding the building. There were 93 people staying in the shelter at the time, 32 of whom were children.
“We had to evacuate everyone,” Garlit said. “The building is still closed. Thankfully some of the people were able to make other arrangements.”
The building is still in the process of being restored and Garlit said she hopes it will be re-opened on June 1. As a result, space at the mission has been significantly reduced, with people sleeping in the dining hall of the men’s shelter and in the administrative building.
“This has been a really tough situation for us,” Garlit said. “We have all this going on at the same time. It has been unreal.”
Garlit added that once the family shelter re-opens the mission can start taking people in again, but until then there just isn’t any room for anybody else.
She also thanked the community for its support during these troubled times, saying the mission has had to rely heavily on the donations people are able to give.
Donations can be taken to Crossroads Mission, 944 S. Arizona Ave., or the Second Chance Thrift Store, 55 W. Eighth St.