Local Communities Seek New Ways to Respond to Hunger and Homelessness During the Pandemic

Planning in Progress

by Kristen Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner

Even under normal circumstances, some of the most vulnerable people in our country’s population are those who are homeless and/or hungry. Without adequate shelter, sanitation, a stable supply of nutritious and fresh food, they are already subject to physical and mental illness, disease, exposure, malnutrition, and violence at much higher rates than the average American. But in times of a pandemic, these vulnerabilities worsen.

Many homeless shelters across the U.S. have been forced to close or reduce the numbers of people they can shelter to provide adequate social distancing to protect both their staff and those they serve. The coronavirus itself has triggered an additional increase in  hunger and homelessness as unemployment rates have skyrocketed nationwide. Counties and local jurisdictions across the country and Maryland have been left trying to assist the homeless and control the spread of the novel coronavirus at a time when resources, especially emergency health care, are already stressed.

Some communities have sought creative ways to deal with these emergency circumstances, such as temporary tent encampments where social distancing is enforced, and portable sanitation is provided. The City of Salisbury, Maryland recently undertook such an effort, setting up an encampment called Camp Hope, on a local playground. Camp Hope was a collaboration between the city, area non-profits, the Maryland National Guard (which cooked and delivered meals), faith-based organizations, area businesses, and individual private donors who provided a portable shower, tents, sleeping bags, and other supplies.

Unfortunately, severe weather just a couple of weeks after opening forced the camp to close and residents to be relocated to other emergency facilities such as hotels. However, on May 1, 2020 Salisbury Mayor Jake Day’s office issued a press release announcing the closure and the expediting of more permanent housing options through “rapid rehousing” programs that are collaborative efforts of numerous agencies, including the Somerset County Health Department, the Salisbury Department of Housing and Community Development’s Housing First program, the Seton Center (a multipurpose community center run by Catholic Charities), and other state and local partners.

To learn more about these efforts, or to help by donating a meal, Contact Christine Chestnutt, Housing and Homelessness Manager for the City of Salisbury, at: (443) 397-2149.

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