Winter warming shelters in Washtenaw County open ahead of schedule

Effort part of community response to prevent spread of COVID-19

Clients who feel sick are currently quarantined on the building's second floor. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – Washtenaw County’s Winter Warming Shelter programming has started early this year to allow for additional shelter options and key transitions for individuals experiencing homelessness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Winter sheltering efforts began on Monday as part of a community response to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The county’s main warming shelter, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County’s Delonis Center, has cut its normal capacity in order to allow for proper social distancing. There are now 70 beds instead of the normal 145. Due to this, six congregations in the community will help fill in the gaps by providing overnight and occasional daytime shelters. Each congregation will provide shelter for an entire month from November through March.

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For overnight shelter overflow, the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission has allowed for the use of Meri Lou Murray Recreational Center for up to 60 individuals throughout the winter months.

The Shelter Association also confirmed this week the receipt of additional funding that will facilitate hotel stays for medically fragile clients. These stays also begin on Monday in a local hotel.

“We have been grateful to partner with the Shelter Association and the Red Roof Inn to provide individual hotel rooms since April 2, and in particular during the Stay Home Stay Safe Emergency Order,” Gregory Dill, Washtenaw County Administrator said in a statement. “We wanted ensure an effective and immediate emergency response to provide safe shelter for the most vulnerable in our community.”

Dill added that the response shifted over the summer from an emergency back to finding homeless individuals permanent housing. With CARES Act funding through the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, homeless individuals were able to receive case management and rental assistance through Rapid Rehousing. This helped the shelter prioritize housing placements for its clients at the Red Roof Inn, according to Dill.

Starting Monday, 25 clients staying at Red Roof Inn will be moved to other shelter accommodations.

“On Monday, we have all hands on deck as we work on a smooth transition from Shelter guests at Red Roof to either the Delonis Center, a rotating congregation or hotel rooms at another site,” Dan Kelly, Executive Director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County said in a statement. “Our team has been working to prepare guests for the transition, and will be prioritizing hotel stays for those who might be more at risk in a congregate setting.”

Local activist group Washtenaw Camp Outreach protested outside the Red Roof Inn last week, calling for the county to allow homeless individuals to remain there throughout the winter months.

In a Facebook post on Friday, the group criticized the move to switch to warming center programming, citing the county’s approval to redevelop the Red Roof Inn site.

“Putting private development before public health kills people,” read the post. “Now, we have a plan to crowd rooms, use the rotating shelter system, and create overnight (not 24-hour) facilities where people will be back out in the cold at 5 a.m.”

For the colder months, the Shelter Association said it continues to search for additional locations for daytime and overnight shelter.

“November is the mildest month, so it offers time for us to transition and work on finding additional sites,” Kelly said in a statement. “We’ve had an impressive response from the community on identifying locations and we have been visiting multiple sites weekly to evaluate them.”

Washtenaw County Health Officer Jimena Loveluck said that COVID testing for both clients and staff will be conducted weekly at the Delonis Center and that mask wearing, temperature screenings and social distancing are still in effect at the shelter.

According to a news release, any individuals experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 will be transferred to Michigan Medicine. All locations will be practicing CDC cleaning standards.

Statistics from the Shelter Association (March through October)

  • More than 750 people served since March overall and more than 500 sheltered
  • More than 120 have moved into permanent housing since the pandemic began
  • Conducted over 40,000 health screenings
  • Two positive COVID-19 cases (both in March)
  • 42% of our guests are over 50

Anyone who is homeless or experiencing a housing crisis should contact Housing Access of Washtenaw County at 734-961-1999.

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.