Local News

Social distancing strains available beds at Durham's homeless shelters

Posted July 7, 2020 7:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2020 7:18 p.m. EDT

— Time is running out for people in Durham who’ve sheltered at a hotel since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Move out day is tomorrow.

As the county’s COVID-19 housing contract expires July 9, new shelter guidelines may impact the homeless tremendously.

The Urban Ministries Shelter on Liberty Street in Durham will face new challenges when residents relocate from hotels tomorrow morning. The intake is now limited to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Volunteers are working hard to welcome back Urban Ministries residents. They’ve wiped down the tables and installed Plexiglas in the cafeteria.

“There were four of us before, but because of COVID we decided to just work the two of us,” said longtime volunteer Evelyn Yankana.

Limited staff and volunteers on-campus aren’t the only changes the shelter has made. Following COVID-19 health guidelines, only 83 beds will be available for those in need compared to the normal 149.

“In working with the Emergency Operation Center team, there’s going to be an alternate location that’s going to be set up. That location is going to primarily set up for those who identify as medically fragile,” said Executive Director Sheldon Mitchell.

In recent weeks, three residents tested positive for the virus. As they ramp up disinfection measures onsite, Mitchell said there is greater concern the homeless population will grow.

“We already had a waiting list for singles, as well as families within our community. So there’s definitely a need for housing,” he added.

In response, he’s working with county officials to find other shelter options in the area and building relationships with landlords to secure affordable housing.

“Whether it be resources to help people with deposits, or first month’s rent so that’s not a barrier or if they can help introduce us to landlord who is open and willing to rent to someone in need at this time," Mitchell said.

UMD directors are also asking for community support to help donate beds and linens so residents have a place to sleep when they do move out.

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