The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, via Google Maps

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Amid COVID-19 Fears, Dallas Homeless Shelters Seek to Protect Their Vulnerable Populations

The Salvation Army and the Bridge discuss the ways in which they're keeping their visitors safe as fears of the coronavirus ramp up.

To limit the spread of the Coronavirus, the CDC recommends avoiding close contact with other people and staying home when possible. People at homeless shelters don’t have those luxuries.

In response to the growing threat, a couple of area shelters say they’re boosting cleaning procedures and taking extra precautions to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“We’re just trying to do whatever we can to try to keep our folks safe,” says Blake Fetterman, executive director of the Salvation Army’s Carr P. Collins Social Service Center. “We’ve got people who are coming in, and when they walk through our doors they’re trusting us to take care of them. It’s just really important to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure that they’re healthy.”

Located just west of downtown, Collins hosts up to 600 individuals experiencing homelessness each day. Fetterman says the center has regularly scheduled staff to clean common spaces.

In recent weeks, the center has increased cleaning regimens with a focus on high-traffic surfaces like the front door, door handles, the reception desk, elevator buttons, and stair railings. During high-traffic times (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) these areas are cleaned once an hour. Additionally, staff are required to disinfect residential program areas at least four times a day. Clients are responsible for cleaning their own individual spaces.

Meanwhile, anyone entering the facility is being monitored closely. As both the homeless and volunteers arrive, the staff asks if they’ve experienced any coronavirus symptoms or if they’ve sought any medical attention recently. Across the board, they strive to ensure all staff, residents, and volunteers understand the severity of the issue and educate them on proper hand washing and prevention techniques, Fetterman said. CDC posters on health and hygiene are posted throughout the facility.

If anyone exhibits or reports any coronavirus symptoms—which include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath—the center will immediately send them to the Parkland Memorial Hospital, which is located next door.

In case of a widespread outbreak, Fetterman says the center has identified a far wing in one of its buildings that can be transitioned into an isolation or quarantine section. However, shutting down the facility is not an option.

If necessary, the center may temporarily suspend some of its services, like the food pantry, outpatient addiction counseling, and volunteer activities.

“As this issue continues to grow, we continue to get more and more rigorous in our response,” Fetterman said.

The same goes for The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, where precautions began in late February. Chief development officer Nick Colletti said the facility operates 24/7 and already had strict cleaning schedules in place to keep up with the Bridge’s high traffic. Once coronavirus began spreading in the U.S., the center began cleaning more aggressively, he said.

On top of increasing cleaning frequency, the staff also uses stronger antibacterial cleaners for high-traffic areas. Disinfectant towels and wipes are available to both residents and staff throughout the center.

The Bridge has 300 overnight beds but sees about 900 guests daily. Each person is screened for symptoms as they enter, Colletti said. The center’s leadership team remains in constant communication with the city of Dallas to ensure they are receiving the latest information on the disease’s status as well as the best preventive measures.

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