COVID-19 has created challenges in serving the most vulnerable populations in the county, including those who are homeless. To better serve the needs of the homeless, the Prince William County Department of Social Services and Streetlight Community Outreach Ministries moved the Overnight Shelter to the gymnasium of the Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building in March, allowing for greater social distancing. This week, the Overnight Shelter was moved again, along with the Bill Mehr Drop-In Center, to the Sharron Baucom Dale City Recreation Center.
With malls, libraries, and parks all closed due to COVID-19, the homeless had no place to go during the day. Courtney Tierney, the director of the county's Department of Social Services, said, "We needed an option for adults during COVID because when the governor tells you to stay at home, and you don't have a place to stay, that's kind of hard to do."
While the Ferlazzo Building could house 48 people, there was no room for expansion and the building couldn't remain open 24 hours a day, every day, according to Tierney. The recreation center, which can hold 60 people with room for expansion to 110, has separate dormitory-style rooms for single adult men and women, two common rooms, more showers than the Ferlazzo Building and a room for meals, Tierney said.
In addition to being larger, the recreation center can be open 24 hours a day, every day, and offers more accessibility for the homeless, Tierney said. It is a place where single adults can go for showers, meals, and daily hygiene items, along with access to referrals for behavioral health services, medical and dental referrals, and employment services.
The Cooperative Council of Ministries, a coalition of area churches, provides meals for the homeless and continues to feed people at the recreation center. "The Cooperative Council of Ministries has always fed at the overnight shelter and the Drop-In Center, so that somebody could get three meals a day. They're still doing the same thing. They're just doing it in one place," Tierney said.
Last month, the county accepted, budgeted and appropriated funds for the Homeless Crisis Response Plan to provide non-congregate care sheltering by using motels to house the homeless that meet one of the following criteria: have tested positive for COVID-19 and need to be isolated, but not hospitalized; have been exposed to COVID-19 and need to be quarantined; have underlying health conditions that place them at high risk for the virus, or are 60 years or older. Currently, the county has placed 48 homeless individuals meeting the criteria in a motel.
"The pandemic is tough for everyone, especially those who are homeless. We continue to serve this population in as many ways that we can," said Tierney. "We could not do this without our community partners; and we are so grateful for their support and the support of the community during this time."
Those who are experiencing homelessness and need services should call the Coordinated Entry System at 703-792-3366.