Published Wednesday, April 1, 2020 | 1:57 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, April 1, 2020 | 3:42 p.m.
One week after the shelter was forced to close because a patron tested positive for COVID-19, Catholic Charities is reopening Wednesday afternoon at half-capacity to allow social distancing and with other measures in place to protect public health.
The shelter serves up to 500 people on a given night, but its bed count has decreased indefinitely to 254 in order to space beds farther apart as recommended by health officials. Preference for shelter admittance will go to the elderly and the disabled, said Catholic Charities CEO Deacon Tom Roberts.
To protect patrons and staff, officials from the Southern Nevada Health District will be on site for the next few days to screen people for COVID-19 symptoms prior to admitting them to the shelter, said Leslie Carmine, media and community relations director for Catholic Charities. The goal is to ultimately train shelter staff to screen patrons themselves. Those who are symptomatic will be tested for coronavirus and directed to a different shelter option where they can self-isolate, Carmine said.
“We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do or that we’ve been recommended to do by the health district so we can operate this shelter safely,” Roberts said.
In addition to reducing bed capacity, Catholic Charities disinfected its facility prior to re-opening Wednesday, has increased cleaning frequency and has secured protective gear for all staff, he added. To protect their health, volunteers were sent home indefinitely.
“We are struggling to have enough staff, but we’re committed to opening the shelter this evening, and we are committed to having staff to do that safely this evening,” Roberts said. “That will continue to be our focus.”
If patrons staying at the shelter start to show COVID-19 symptoms overnight, staff will move them to a 10-bed isolation room until they can be assessed by health officials. The shelter will also track the beds in which patrons sleep so that if someone presents coronavirus symptoms or goes on to test positive for the disease, staff can take appropriate action to protect those who slept near them, Carmine said.
“They’ll still get to choose (beds), but we’re going to know where they decided to sleep,” she said.
Communal meals are being served outside and staff are educating patrons about the importance of staying at least six feet from one another, Carmine said.
“It’s hard. We know the term, we hear it on the news, but our clients don’t understand what social distancing is, so we have to try to tell them,” she said.
Despite the loss of volunteers and the prioritization of health and safety, all Catholic Charities services, including its Meals on Wheels program, continue to operate, Roberts said. Community partners have helped make that happen, with Wynn Las Vegas having committed to donate 1,000 meals every day to the shelter, he said.
The social services organization’s biggest need at this time is monetary contributions. Donations can be made through Three Square, which works directly with Catholic Charities to provide patrons meals, Roberts said. More information about donations is available on Catholic Charities’ website as well.
With the reopening of the shelter, local leaders will close a makeshift temporary shelter that was set up on the parking lot of Cashman Field last Saturday and served a total of 591 homeless individuals. That facility, which was criticized by homeless advocates nationwide as inadequate and inhumane, will close Thursday at 6 a.m., said city of Las Vegas spokesperson Jace Radke.
Nonetheless, there is still not enough temporary and permanent housing available for Southern Nevada’s homeless population, especially given Catholic Charities’ reduced beds, Roberts said. The most recent Clark County homeless count from 2019 found that there were over 5,500 unsheltered people in the region.
“The challenge we have, even when we are at complete capacity of 500 beds, is that is not a full solution,” Roberts said.
Clark County officials say they are trying to secure space for homeless people to self-isolate and practice social distancing, such as in closed hotels and motels, but nothing has been finalized at this time.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact Southern Nevada, Catholic Charities is committed to staying open while protecting patrons and staff and minimizing health risks, Roberts said.
“It’s heartbreaking for me to see how many people are on the streets,” he said. “I know these people. They know us. They are our families. So we’re going to do the best we can to open up as many beds as we can safely.”