Nonprofit looking to address COVID-19 and homelessness

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WACO, Texas – Mission Waco serves dozens of people who are homeless in the Waco area.

With more and more positive cases of COVID-19 being confirmed everyday in McLennan County alone, they are pro-actively exploring alternate ways to help the homeless in case anyone is infected with the virus.

“What we do for the homeless is, really, what we’ve zeroed in on and focused programmatically because they’re some of the most complex issues that we’re really facing during this epidemic here,” says John Calaway, Mission Waco Executive Director.

Serving the homeless year round for Mission Waco typically involves health, finance, nutrition, security, and overall wellness – but with the rise of COVID-19, Calaway says more variables must be considered.

Not just the wellness of the homeless – but the overall health and safety of Waco’s general population, as well.

So to better address the matter, the shelter that normally operates in the evening has been transformed to a 24-hour shelter.

“They don’t have a home to go to like I do or like you do. Perhaps like many of us in Waco. And so, they can’t self-quarantine for 14 days and wait for test results back,” says Calaway.

The organization has been talking with physicians in town, medical providers, as well as other city governments like Dallas – who recently secured 50 hotel rooms at a local hotel to house those who are symptomatic.

Mission Waco ideally wants to follow this model.

“When somebody comes to us and says, ‘I’ve been exposed to this virus’ or ‘exposed to somebody who has a confirmed case but I’m not showing any symptoms’, Well, I don’t want them in the regular population sleeping in the same rooms that the rest of my group does,” he says.

But this hasn’t come without some bumps in the road.

Not many hotels have been showing a willingness to have the homeless stay there – and for the ones that are open to the idea, they still need to work out the number of rooms available for them to use.

A short-term solution the group is working on is having a small group of different area-hotels to house their people.

“Having one hotel room per one symptomatic person who is struggling with homelessness really is the way forward, so our board of directors agreed with that,” says Calaway.

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