COVID-19 pandemic creates struggles for Detroit homeless shelters

Many people have found themselves at homeless shelters as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It took a big toll on us and the population we serve. We no longer can bunk people. We can't keep people next to each other," said Dr. Chad Audi, founder and president of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

The pandemic's toll has caused shelters to see an influx of people in need.

"They just called me and said you can't come back to work and it made me feel real bad because I need to take care of my two children," said a woman receiving help at a shelter.

The 26-year-old didn't want to be identified because of a domestic abuse situation, but she said that she lost her job as a direct care worker due to the pandemic.

Ciara McPherson is a mother who fled a domestic abuse situation she said was amplified by the pandemic.

"I think COVID-19 just made it worse because we couldn't go anywhere so it made the situation worse, every day," she said.

Detroit homeless shelters have shifted operations during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep staff and guests safe.

Audi said Detroit shelters have been collaborating with the city to keep guests and staff safe with testing and vaccines. Shelters are also following social distancing and disinfecting more frequently.

While the shelters have been able to adapt to changes and increases in people needing help, Audi is fearful of what the future may hold.

"There's at least 28 percent of people who are renters in the city of Detroit that are behind paying their rent," he said.

Moratoriums on evictions have kept these people in their homes, but when those moratoriums are lifted, many more people could be on the streets.

"People aren't just one month behind on their rent. They're six months or seven months and not just their rent but their utilities, and go right down the list," said Rev. Faith Fowler, the executive director of Cass Community Social Services.

Both Cass and Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries are working to have additional housing.

Meanwhile, there are organizations helping to feed homeless people on the streets.

Johnnie Townsend gives food to homeless people in Detroit's Hart Plaza.

"It is sad to see people living in these conditions, but we kind of do the best we can," said Johnnie Townsend, with iCare Fighting Hunger Foundation. "They can't come to us but we're going to come to them."

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