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Social Distancing: Almost Impossible in Homeless Shelters like John 3:16 Mission

Posted at 11:23 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 00:47:45-04

TULSA, Okla. — Social distancing -- the advice given to the world to slow down the spread of the coronavirus can be tough to do when dealing with hundreds of people a day. Those who run shelters say the homeless are among the most susceptible to the coronavirus.

It’s impact on Tulsa’s John 3:16 Mission is three-fold. The virus is cutting shelter volunteers, funding, and food sources. They have a two-month supply, but do not know how long it will last because food is being shared with another organization.

“People would have too much food or a leftover from a banquet, they would bring that to the mission, but people have gone home," said Reverend Steve Whitaker, the senior pastor and CEO for John 3:16 Mission. "The entire city is officing from home. Volunteers are afraid to come into the shelters. I don't blame them, it’s a scary moment.”

Inside shelters like Whitaker’s, a lot of people are packed into one place. That is a problem in the fight against COVID-19.

“We have a high concentration of homeless people in small areas. Social distancing isn’t really possible unless you break it up by schedule," Whitaker said. "So, we’re splitting the group in half, sending half to chapel, feeding the other half, then rotating around.”

They also have a sanitizing station right outside the doors, and more scattered inside.

“The other thing we’re doing that we weren’t doing beforehand is cleaning the mission twice a day," Whitaker said. "It’s clean from top to bottom and sanitized from top to bottom. Anybody knows whether it’s going to make a difference or not. We’re just trying to keep it clean as best we can.”

Another change is how they bring people in.

“We’re checking everybody that comes in for signs of coronavirus. Of course we’ve seen people with symptoms," Whitaker said. "Is it COVID? Is it the flu? It’s anybody’s guess. There’s no way, because the tests are not readily available right now and have been reserved for hospitals only.”

Whitaker says they will look for help from hospitals if someone gets really sick. For now, it looks as though they are all clear.

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