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Eugene Mission takes measures to protect homeless seeking shelter

Office space is being repurposed as small-volume dormitories where the space between beds has been expanded.

Posted: Mar 23, 2020 1:29 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- The Eugene Mission is taking steps to ensure the health of its residents amid the spread of coronavirus.

According to executive director Sheryl Balthrop, staff have made big changes to proactively observe public health guidelines, protecting their guests and the broader Eugene-Springfield community.

Office space is being repurposed as small-volume dormitories, where the space between beds has been expanded, as opposed to residents all sleeping in the same large room.

At-risk residents have been separated, and meal times have been spread out so that the most vulnerable eat first. The mission is open around the clock throughout the crisis to ensure that guests have a safe and hygienic place to be. 

According to Balthrop, around 30% of the mission's guests are above 60, and many others are immunocompromised. Though many fear the homeless population could spread the disease, she believes the community is most at risk.

"There's a lot of stigma that's being attached to unhoused people as vectors where actually they are the folks at risk. If they were to contract the virus, they would not have the resources to self-isolate or get the medical care that they need," she said.

As of Monday, the shelter was at capacity and closed for day-use. Instead, the mission is delivering food and services directly to those who need it.

“We are hoping that the rest of the community also looks at other sheltering options. But there aren’t too many. Basically a few folks are providing shelter and thousands of folks are without shelter,” Balthrop said.

Some mission staff have set up cots and beds in their offices, staying on site around the clock. Balthrop believes that this crisis is a time for hard work and compassion.

“I think we all need to keep very soft hearts and realize that we need to support them even in this difficult time. Sometimes when we are fearful we stop supporting the folks who are the most vulnerable," she said.

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