Mill Brooks Estates resident Sherry Wagenfeld receives her delivered meal. Courtesy photo

WESTBROOK — Westbrook Housing Authority maintenance workers walk more than eight miles a day as they sanitize each of the 12 complexes during the coronavirus pandemic, and other staff members are providing residents with financial assistance, meals and wellness checks, the director said.

“Westbrook Housing Authority staff are essential employees who keep showing up to work every day to ensure the safety and well being of our family, elderly and disabled tenants in our 557 apartments,” Chris Laroche said.

Residents have been asked to keep distanced from one another, common areas other than trash and laundry rooms have have been closed and work orders are filled only in emergencies. The maintenance crews sanitize every doorknob, elevator and railing members of the public may touch, seven days a week.

These measures are important because of the risk of rapid spread of the virus within congregate communities like the housing authority’s apartment buildings, said Andrew Turcotte, fire chief and city health officer.

Turcotte said he has been in close contact with Westbrook Housing officials during the pandemic because of that risk factor.

“In public health, it is essential that we intervene as early as possible and to get in front of those facilities that have been impacted and to be as proactive as possible to prevent further spread,” he said.

Laroche said two residents reported they had tested positive for the virus and sought proper medical attention and followed CDC guidelines.

“We’ve had limited exposure to our residents, and we have had no deaths,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate because the staff and the residents immediately have responded to the guidelines,” Laroche said.

The housing authority has another 870 families in its Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program, and it’s assuring them they will be able pay their rent, even if they have income reduction or job loss due to COVID-19,” Laroche said.

Since Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Westbrook Housing has been able to provide an additional 77 Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) to residents.

“If that person lost their job right now, we’d pick up the difference. That’s money that the renter doesn’t need to take from general assistance and have local money help,” Laroche said.

Westbrook Housing also has postponed a scheduled rent increase, and any tenant one who had already paid at the higher rate will get a refund.

“Right now the HUD market for a one bedroom is $1071 (a month). The housing choice voucher will cover around 90-93% of that amount,” Laroche said.

During the pandemic, Westbrook Housing has also been delivering over 2,000 meals a week to housing clients. The meals are prepared by , Birch Stream Farms out of Bangor, which specializes in producing and packaging frozen meals for Meals on Wheels and other programs.

Our kitchen staff at Larrabee Village bags them up, and Westbrook Housing staff delivers to the door of residents requesting meals,” said Michelle York, supportive services director.

Residents can receive six free frozen meals per person weekly, along with instructions on heating them. The meals have included chicken teriyaki, ravioli and pork loin.

The weekly cost of the meals is about $34,000, with groups like United Way in Portland pitching in to help with the cost.

Employees also make regular wellness calls to residents, York said.

“We have 12 communities, and we have two focused on the elderly and disabled side. We are seeing a lot of gracious residents when we do well check calls,” she said.  

“The residents are frightened, but they are helping each other. It’s a lonely time for them, but for the most part they are respecting the distancing,” she said. 

Some tenants need help with navigating new, remote services. 

 “Many residents need food stamps and aren’t computer savvy, so working remotely to make sure their services aren’t interrupted is a whole new world,” York said.

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