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Homeless shelters preparing for winter with COVID restrictions

Shelter directors are hoping they won’t have to deal with severely cold weather or the possibility that the risk of a dangerously-cold winter could outweigh the risk of the coronavirus pandemic.
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 8:09 PM EST
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - There’s a frost in the air in Eastern North Carolina. Which means colder winter is not far away.

Homeless shelters in Eastern North Carolina are preparing for what happens when that severe cold hits while coronavirus restrictions limit their capacity.

“New clients will be the challenge,” said Onslow County Shelter Director Cindy Williams. “The ones who have not gone through the protocol.”

The old shelter in Onslow County has been closed because COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for proper social distancing. The newer shelter is bigger and has about twice the capacity in a typical year. Shelter directors said they’ve already hit their capacity.

That means the new shelter can accommodate clients through the cold nights, even with half-capacity.

“Our flex space can only be used when we’ve had the consensus of our health department director and our fire marshal,” said Onslow Community Outreach Chair Don Herring. “That space is only used for emergencies that are designated by the city, county, or the state.”

All clients must be tested for coronavirus before being taken in.

If the weather is considered to be dangerously cold, shelter directors would consider opening additional space for beds while meeting CDC guidelines.

As a last resort, if restrictions don’t allow them to take any more clients, they won’t turn them away empty-handed. The shelter has already packed cold-weather kits, including blankets, hats, tents, and hand-warmers.

“If they have to sleep outdoors, that will help them bear the cold,” said Williams. “We do the best that we can to help them face the cold if they have to. '

“Before COVID, we perceived it as to be a relatively reasonable fix,” said Herring. “With COVID, it continues to be a challenge.”

The organization is also putting clients up in local motels to provide a cushion for the shelter’s capacity.

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