Ann Arbor homeless shelter ‘desperate for aid’ as two test positive for COVID-19

Mattresses ready to be used in the winter warming center (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – Two individuals at the Delonis Center have tested positive for COVID-19. Both have been sent to the hospital, according to shelter officials.

The arrival of the virus was only a matter of time and the shelter is desperate for help, said Shelter Association of Washtenaw County’s director of development Sarah Paspal-Jasinski.

“We are a petri dish for illnesses and infection," she said. "We are essentially operating like a hospital with no resources.”

The Delonis Center has been enforcing social distancing and checking the temperature and surveying everyone who comes through its doors. The use of hand sanitizer and frequent hand washing is enforced and new gloves, goggles and masks are provided to each new client, though Paspal-Jasinksi said they are ill-fitting and only provide a temporary solution.

Clients who feel sick are currently quarantined on the building’s second floor, and the shelter put out a call last week for local organizations to open up space to host healthy clients temporarily overnight.

While the shelter has secured some external locations, it lacks the staff to operate these overnight shelters.

With staff calling in sick or requesting to work from home over fears of contracting the virus, the shelter is in need of resources now more than ever, said Paspal-Jasinski.

“Right now I have three people managing the shelter," she said. “We are managing this huge pandemic by ourselves right now with no clear guidance on how to prepare for the worst. We’re in need of bodies and funds."

Though SAWC receives funds from the county for day-to-day operations, the scale of the current health crisis and resources required to address it far surpass the general budget, said Paspal-Jasinski.

A recent report by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California Los Angeles and Boston University projects that homeless individuals who contract COVID-19 would be:

  • Twice as likely to be hospitalized
  • Two to four times as likely to require critical care
  • Two to three times as likely to die than the general population

The same team estimates that $11.5 billion of aid would be needed to prevent and manage the spread of the disease.

Paspal-Jasinski said shelters around the country are facing a dire situation and could face mass closure if aid doesn’t arrive in time.

“Our unsheltered neighbors have compromised immune systems, increased health care needs, and suffer from respiratory, heart and kidney diseases and are at increased risk for infection than our sheltered neighbors,” said Paspal-Jasinski. “Social distancing is nearly impossible during our overnight Warming Shelter where a minimum of 85 cots are placed on the floors of the Delonis Center.”

Additionally, clients must leave the shelter during daytime hours due to lack of staff being able to manage the floors.

Places downtown where clients would go to use the restroom and warm up during the day are now closed. One community supporter has offered to pay for a Porta Potty in the shelter’s parking lot so clients can have access to a toilet.

“People are going to die at shelters in alarming numbers,” said Paspal Jasinski. “We need aid now. This pandemic should be treated like a national disaster with national support, sooner rather than later. With very limited options, the Shelter Association will not fail this vulnerable population.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.