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Cleveland homeless shelters keep COVID in mind as cold air forces more people inside

Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 10:49 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Homeless shelters throughout greater Cleveland are preparing for a balancing act between keeping people warm and trying to avoid adding to the COVID-19 crisis.

“For folks that are unsheltered and living on the streets, it can be life-threatening when the weather gets cold. Our community wants to be prepared to make sure they have options when they need them,” said Chris Knestrick, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

The cold air is certainly coming overnight into Thursday morning.

“There’s no stopping it. West winds are bringing it in. It’s just a matter of time before we’re all in the teens and 20s. And wind chills will be at or below zero,” said 19 First Alert Chief Meteorologist Jason Nicholas.

Knestrick said there are typically about 150 people sleeping outside on any given night. He’s confident those people will have a place to stay, even though shelters have been working to keep clients apart as much as possible during COVID.

According to Knestrick, there is a collaborative effort underway to add seasonal emergency shelters to accommodate those who typically don’t seek help.

In turn, more facilities should equate to less crowded settings.

Since early 2020, there have been COVID protocols in place throughout to try limiting congregate settings, but Knestrick admits there is a challenge facing area shelters.

“I’m not sure where in our community is safe from COVID-19 right now, right? I don’t think there’s some magic way to make emergency shelters safe,” he said, referring to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. “I think it is dangerous, but I know when it’s cold like this, being safe and warm is also really important. It’s a difficult decision for folks on the streets right now. Where do you go to get shelter when you know that there’s a pandemic happening?”

The City Mission, which has helped the homeless for more than 100 years in Cleveland, lists a series of changes on its website in response to COVID-19.

The agency said it suspended individual and group volunteering activity and has temporarily reduced the number of partner agencies that offer services on-site and continues to follow CDC guidelines while routinely evaluating its plan.

Other organizations have reported similar measures.

If you are experiencing a housing crisis, call 216-674-6700 and follow the prompts provided.

The hours of operation are 8 a.m. - 8 p.m, Monday through Friday. If you require shelter after 8 p.m. or on weekends, call 211.

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