COVID-19 caught the world by surprise, and Springs Rescue Mission was no exception.
In early March, SRM’s staff and leadership began grappling with the reality of the situation. Caring for the community’s most vulnerable men and women grew even more essential — and the weight of that responsibility clearer.
The Mission faced obstacles such as to supply shortages and a 20-percent increase in the number of homeless men and women seeking services at its campus in downtown Colorado Springs. Not to mention the challenging logistics of social distancing in a homeless shelter.
But with the help of local heroes — frontline staff, local governments and community partners — the challenge was met. While many U.S. cities have seen the virus spread among their homeless populations, Colorado Springs has avoided a much-feared outbreak of COVID-19.
“Our front-line teams have been heroes,” said Chief Development Officer Travis Williams. “They’ve been stretched thin but have been working tirelessly to meet the demand for services. They continue to provide hot meals, shelter, care and counsel to those who need it most.”
In mid-March, Springs Rescue Mission began implementing a series of protocols to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak. Non-essential staff began working from home, non-essential services were suspended, and the organization began working with the City of Colorado Springs and other community partners to create a 70-bed “isolation shelter” for homeless individuals in need of quarantine.
After weeks of work — and a series of disappointing pitfalls — the isolation shelter was opened April 5 at the historic City Auditorium in downtown Colorado Springs.
“Even if only one symptomatic person used the isolation shelter, it would be worth it to protect Colorado Springs already vulnerable homeless population,” Williams.
Only 13 of those 70 beds have been used, which has come as a sigh of relief. The community prepared for the worst, hoping for the best — and that hope rings true for the homeless individuals who have sought and received protection from the spread of the virus.
Morale has remained high among the 600 or so individuals that visit Springs Rescue Mission’s campus each day. For homeless men and women, survival mode is the norm, and viruses are commonplace among a population that disproportionately suffers from underlying conditions like respiratory illness, heart disease and diabetes.
“When this all started, there was no fear,” said Laron, a guest in the men’s shelter. “We’ve survived so much already.”
For individuals participating in the Mission’s “Work Engagement” program, the coronavirus has posed a challenge to work harder to protect those with health issues or weakened immune systems.
“It’s made us more aware,” said Kim, a Greenway Flats resident and Work Engagement participant. “Myself and my team are working to keep our clients safe as well as our staff. This has brought our team together — working tirelessly to keep everyone safe and sanitized.”
“It’s been a group effort,” added Rob, a shelter guest who also participates in Work Engagement. “I’m really proud of what we’re doing here and how well this shelter has taken care of us.”
The pandemic had other impacts on operations at the Mission. The organization’s annual Easter Alive Outreach Meal was to be held at City Auditorium on Resurrection Sunday, but was moved to Samaritan’s Kitchen after the isolation shelter opened a week before.
It wasn’t the Easter anyone was hoping for or expecting, but it was a special one.
“Easter is a time of love and hope, and I think this one was no different,” Williams said. “In fact, I think we were able to share even more love and hope through the isolation shelter and moving the Easter meal to our campus. We are committed to loving bigger and being that beacon of hope, especially in times of darkness.”
On Monday, April 13 (the day after Easter) Samaritan’s Kitchen welcomed nearly 250 hungry neighbors who received full plates of honey ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, warm rolls and pumpkin pie. The tables were covered with dressy linens and prepared with real table settings and flowers. Mission Catering staff helped prepare and serve the holiday meal.
“It was really heartwarming,” said Jason Horn, a New Life Program graduate and manager of Mission Catering. “Our guests seemed to really enjoy the extra effort put into providing them a full and delicious Easter meal. Some were sad that it didn’t happen at City Auditorium, but surprised that it didn’t stop us. They prayed for us and with us, and everyone was so respectful. I think they felt at home — and so did I.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to plateau and Americans gradually return to their everyday lives, it’s important to consider the silver linings of such a crisis. Not to minimize its impact, but to recognize the great sense of hope, generosity and community that has been left in its wake. During this most difficult time, men and women across the nation rose to the occasion. And Colorado Springs was a shining example of that effort.
“To see so many rally together to care for homeless individuals during this critical time is a testimony to this community,” Williams said. “We recognize we’re all in this together. The outpouring from this community to serve their fellow man has been inspiring. Perhaps we can all stretch a little more to serve, offer grace, and continue doing our part to care for one another.”
Springs Rescue Mission staff and leadership would like to thank the countless local businesses, government agencies, community partners and generous donors for their help during this difficult time. With community support, we’ve been able to continue serving Colorado Springs’ most vulnerable men and women. It’s some of the most meaningful and important work we’ve ever done, and we couldn’t have done it without the thousands of neighbors choosing to Love Bigger in our amazing city.
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