Roof Above, formerly Men’s Shelter of Charlotte/Urban Ministry Center after a merger in April 2019, has been scrambling to accommodate more homeless residents and allow for social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo provided by Roof Above

To reduce the risk of Covid-19, Roof Above will temporarily close the Statesville Avenue Emergency Shelter on Thursday and open a 130-bed shelter inside a motel, CEO Liz Clausen-Kelly said Tuesday.

“Congregate facilities are among the most dangerous places to live in this pandemic,” she said, and the Statesville shelter, with two large open rooms, is largely group living.

Roof Above, formerly Men’s Shelter of Charlotte/Urban Ministry Center, has been scrambling to accommodate homeless residents and allow for social distancing amid the pandemic.

More than 3,000 people in Mecklenburg County are homeless, according to recent data. In early April, Mecklenburg County moved 58 people — all but one who were homeless — into a hotel leased by the county for people who had tested positive for the virus or had been exposed to someone who tested positive.

Through two shelters, a temporary dorm, and a Day Services Center, Roof Above serves more than 600 people experiencing homelessness every day — 80% of those served identify as Black, Clausen-Kelly said.  

In March, the organization reduced the number of beds at the Statesville shelter and moved some guests to hotels to create more space for social distancing. There is less risk at the Tryon Street facility because it had been recently renovated and guests have their own pods, Clausen-Kelly said. But there are still more than 120 guests inside the shelters with at least one of the CDC’s identified coronavirus risk conditions, which includes older adults and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes.

The move comes as construction of a new bigger Statesville shelter, which will replace the existing building, continues apace toward an opening date in February 2021. The facility will be named after the Howard R. Levine Foundation, which donated $1 million to support the project, and will have a pod layout similar to the Tryon Street shelter.

In the meantime, the temporary move to a motel will limit the potential to spread the virus and “greatly diminishes risks,” Clausen-Kelly said. Residents will only share a room with one other person. Meals will be provided and guests must wear masks unless eating or sleeping. 

In May, Roof Above opened another temporary facility in an old dorm, providing individual spaces for 70 guests.

Roof Above also serves another 600 people in its housing programs — a “scattered site” model that has 367 units — including Moore Place, a 120-unit apartment building in the North End area.

In May, a resident in one the organization’s housing programs was exposed to Covid-19 through his workplace and tested positive, but he has recovered. That’s the only incidence of Covid-19 among Roof Above residents so far, Clausen-Kelly said. 

A lot of residents work in essential jobs, she said, so the shelters do regular health checks, screenings, temperature checks and follow the community’s testing and quarantine processes when necessary.

Clausen-Kelly said she is encouraged and inspired by the “resilience of the staff and those we serve” in these difficult times. “Homelessness is hard already,” she said, so imagine what it’s like in a pandemic with fewer job opportunities and more restrictions.

“This health crisis has really highlighted our housing crisis, (which) creates risk for all of society,” Clausen-Kelly said.

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