BRUNSWICK — While many local agencies and businesses are closing their doors or offering limited services in an attempt to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, Tedford Housing, the agency running Brunswick’s two homeless shelters, is instead having to extend its hours. 

“Folks are being asked to stay home, hunker down and practice social distancing, but we are working with people who have no homes.” Executive Director Rota Knott said Monday. “If you don’t have a home to go to and hole up in, a place to stockpile food and supplies, it makes it that much more challenging.”

Tedford’s 16-bed adult shelter will be open for 24 hours a day until March 31, at which point Knott and the board of directors will reevaluate the situation and may return to closing during the day. The shelter is effectively closed to the public and officials are not accepting new clients in an effort to protect the health of the guests. 

Any guests who exhibit symptoms are asked to visit their doctor for medical clearance before returning, Knott said.

With 16 guests sleeping side by side, quarantine is virtually impossible. Knott is hoping for help from the Maine Center for Disease Control if there is a case at the shelter, but she said Tedford has been virtually left out of community conversations. 

“I don’t think we’ve been thought about in the planning, but we’re working with one of the most vulnerable populations,” she said. 

Individuals experiencing homelessness are already at greater risk for illness and depression, and many in the Brunswick community are older and have pre-existing or underlying health conditions.

“We don’t have a plan for them” if someone does test positive, Knott said, adding that she and others are working to develop a plan, talking with community partners and state agencies. 

At the six-unit family shelter, quarantine and social distancing should not be much of a problem, as the units are self-contained, she said, but there are other challenges.

Brunswick, Maine School Administrative 75, Regional School Unit 1 and Regional School Unit 5 all announced over the weekend that schools will be closed for at least two weeks. With children out of school, many parents need to either find child care or stay home from work — something that may not be an option for a parent struggling to make ends meet.  Knott said they are working to find relief for those families. 

Both shelters, as well as Tedford’s supportive housing units, are running low on cleaning supplies, paper towels and toilet paper. 

Officials ramped up cleaning and sanitation practices a few weeks ago, but “as with everyone else, it’s becoming incredibly hard to get supplies that we need,” Knott said.

She asked that anyone who may be able to “spare a square” contact the office. 

Beyond the 16 individuals and the six families being served, there are many others in the community without that option. In fiscal year 2019, Tedford Housing served 86 individuals and 23 families in the adult and family shelters, but had to turn away 251 individuals and 205 families due to lack of space. 

Many local places where members of the homeless community might normally spend some time, such as Curtis Memorial Library, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and The Gathering Place, a day shelter, are closing. 

“As we’re all thinking about hunkering down and trying to social distance and wait this one out and protect our loved ones, we can’t forget about those folks who don’t have a family or a place to go and a support system to help them get through this,” Knott said. 

The Gathering Place, which for the last few years has operated as a sort of support system for people without one, announced Monday it too would need to close to help protect vulnerable populations, much like those it serves. 

Phil Studwell, board president, said in a letter to the community that though the doors will be closed, staff and some volunteers will keep working with Tedford, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Oasis Free Clinics to help secure basic needs like shelter, medical care and food.

“We recognize that gathering together as a respectful, hospitable community is a great need, but … we can and must suspend temporarily during this time of crisis,” he said. 

In a similar vein, MidCoast Hunger Prevention Program also announced Monday that while the facility is closed to the public, the program will still provide take-out meals six days per week during the same hours they usually serve hot meals. Take-out meals will be distributed outside the building by the front door. 

The food pantry will also be distributing boxes of pre-packaged food outside the rear of the building during normal hours. 

The organization is operating with minimal staff and volunteers, but according to Karen Parker, executive director, people who need food will still be able to get it. 

“Our goal is to make sure that however long this lasts we are still here distributing food to the community and so everything we’re doing right now is sort of gearing up to be able to be into this for however long this situation continues,” Parker said Monday.

Deliveries to homebound clients are expected to continue. 

As coronavirus continues to spread, more people need to take time off and more businesses temporarily close their doors, more people will likely need their help, she said. 

“We understand that the economic impact of this situation may be devastating for many members of our community, and we are dedicated to continuing to offer basic needs and services during this challenging time,” she said in a statement issued Monday. 

Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program relies on donations of extra food from Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets as well as Target, but shelves at the grocery stores this weekend were empty. 

She has been reaching out to these partners to try to understand the landscape she is facing in terms of food sources. 

“If the shelves are empty to begin with, we’re not going to get the amount of food as in the past and if the demands increase because more people are out of work or working less hours, then that’s the biggest concern I have,” she said. “Right now it’s too early to say what’s going to happen.”

So far, 17 people in Maine have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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