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Virus poses more hardships for Upper Valley’s homeless population

  • Brian Luikart, co-director of UV Gear, surveys camping supplies he was compiling from storage at the Listen Thrift Store in Lebanon, N.H., to donate to homeless people using the Upper Valley Haven’s seasonal shelter Thursday, March 19, 2020. Luikart put together six backpacks with a tent, sleeping bag and pad each. Due to concerns over possible transmission of COVID-19, the Haven decided to close the seasonal shelter on Friday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sarah Daniels picks up a meal from the Listen Community Dinner in White River Junction, Vt., Friday, March 20, 2020. Daniels is staying at the Upper Valley Haven’s Hixon House, a shelter for homeless adults without children. From left are Listen Food Program Manager Ray Pecor, and volunteers Gig Clark, Keith Raymond, and Paul Bouchard. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Diners wait to be admitted, 10 at a time into the lobby of Listen Community Services in White River Junction, Vt., to get take-out dinners Friday, March 20, 2020. Listen has been serving between 65 and 70 meals a night, down from their usual 80 to 100, since COVID-19 precautions closed their dining room. “A lot of people come for the camaraderie, but right now, we’re just hitting the people that need emergency food,” said Food Program Manager Ray Pecor. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • UV Gear Co-director Brian Luikart, right, hands out backpacks loaded with tents, sleeping bags and pads to volunteer Judy Dossett, left, during a delivery of supplies to the seasonal shelter at the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, March 19, 2020. “It’ll close one way or the other on April 14,” Luikart said of the seasonal shelter. “It’ll close sooner if someone gets sick.” Administrators of the Haven decided Friday to close the seasonal shelter to avoid possible transmission of COVID-19 through the homeless community. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Upper Valley Haven truck driver J Green unloads a donation of eight boxes of hamburger patties from P.T. Farms at the organization’s White River Junction, Vt., food pantry Thursday, March 19, 2020. The hamburger was in addition of a routine donation of 400 pounds of ground beef. North Country Smokehouse also donated three pallets of meat, triple their usual donation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Volunteers Jill Meyer, of West Lebanon, left, and Barbara Ewald, of White River Junction, right, package prepared food donated by Molly’s to be distributed through the Upper Valley Haven’s food pantry in White River Junciton, Vt., Thursday, March 19, 2020. Molly’s donated 1,161 pounds of prepared food and Jesse’s gave 1,700 pounds as they were forced to close down as precaustion against COVID-19. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • UV Gear co-director Brian Luikart, middle, sanitizes his hands while talking with volunteer Judy Dossett, right, and Mike Glidden, left, who is homeless at the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2020 9:06:00 PM
Modified: 3/20/2020 9:05:47 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Upper Valley Haven abruptly closed its seasonal shelter on Friday, two weeks before previously planned, potentially adding to woes for people who are homeless and seeing their access to other venues curtailed by the coronavirus crisis.

People who are homeless, including about 10 who were staying in the shelter, will be able to use vouchers provided by the Economic Services Division of Vermont to stay in nearby motels in the Upper Valley for at least the next week, Haven director Michael Redmond said.

He added that the closing was due to a staffing issue in recent weeks, including one older member of the staff who decided to self-isolate to avoid contracting COVID-19. But Redmond is hopeful about the change, saying that the motels provide more opportunities for social distancing and could prevent people from catching the virus.

“Having individual bathrooms and bedrooms provides a safer condition than a congregate setting which was offered through the seasonal shelter,” Redmond wrote in a news release Friday.

The Haven’s other two shelters — its Hixon Adult Shelter and Byrne Family Shelter — are still open and operating.

The news comes in the midst of a recent outbreak of the highly contagious new coronavirus in the country over the past few weeks. People who show symptoms, including coughing, a fever and fatigue, largely have been instructed to stay home. As a precaution, many businesses, community centers and nonprofits around the Upper Valley have closed their doors to allow their employees to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus.

But, as resources continue to shut down, the homeless community is bearing much of the burden.

“There’s nowhere to stay dry or warm,” said Mike Glidden, who has been homeless in the Hartford area for around six years.

To get out of the rain or the cold or use the restroom, Glidden said, he used to walk into a public library like the Kilton Public Library or wander the aisles in local stores. Those options are harder to come by now.

“Places to hang out and warm up would be nice,” Glidden said. “If we get sick, we have nowhere to go, so we’re not going to get any better.”

He added that supplies like toilet paper and hand sanitizer are increasingly hard to find. Glidden said he’s taken to grabbing partial toilet paper rolls from the Haven “just to have something.”

On Thursday, Jolley Stores in Hanover and West Lebanon both stopped accepting cash as a preventive measure against coronavirus, associates at the stores confirmed Friday.

“Cash is dirty,” said Steve Raineault, of the Hanover location. He said the measure is in place for the “foreseeable future.”

But the move creates another difficulty for homeless people, who generally use cash rather than credit cards or smartphone payment apps.

The West Lebanon location on North Main Street and Bridge Street in particular is a popular spot for foot traffic. It’s easily walkable from homeless encampments in White River Junction and close to a Listen Community Services location.

Few understand the strain the virus puts on resources for homeless people the way Bryan Luikart, director of UVGear, does.

Every spring, in anticipation of the Haven’s seasonal shelter closing, and more people planning to sleep outside, the nonprofit packs bundles of supplies to donate to members of the homeless community.

This year has been different.

Standing in the temporarily closed donation center of Listen on Thursday, Luikart assessed his inventory, which included boxes of hotel soaps, one bottle of hand sanitizer and not nearly enough tents.

“There are fewer people coming in (to donate) and lots of stuff going out,” Luikart said.

As the economy suffers due to the virus, Luikart said he expects more people might become homeless, especially those who are just barely getting by on a low-wage paycheck.

“There are some people who are right on the edge,” he said, adding that UVGear likely will see an uptick in the number of tents people in the community will need this year. “We’ll need 100 or so. We don’t have 100.”

The Haven has seen similar difficulties when it comes to resources. A week before the closing of the shelter, Redmond said, the Haven had to reduce the number of beds in the seasonal shelter from 15 to 10, to abide by general infection control measures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that stipulate beds must be 3 feet apart.

They also implemented screening procedures and brought in infrared thermometers to take the temperatures of people staying at the shelters.

Even the daily communal meals the Haven provided — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — have had to be cut back to prevent the spread. Instead of eating together, people pick up individually wrapped meals of sandwiches, eggs and fruit from the Haven in the morning.

Redmond said he is in talks with owners of hotels in White River Junction near the interchange of interstates 89 and 91 to accommodate homeless guests on a longer-term basis on two different levels. The first level, he said, would be housing for those who have been exposed to COVID-19 and need to be quarantined or self-isolated but have not shown any overt symptoms of the disease.

The second level, which Redmond termed “recovery centers,” would be for individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and require “more active management” and medical support, although he stressed this accommodation was not at the level of medical care that would be provided at so-called pop-up hospitals officials are considering around the state.

Redmond explained that the reason to shift at-risk and exposed residents from a homeless shelter is to improve their ability to practice social distancing. He said the hotels would be easily accessible to Haven staff to provide necessary services and the state would contract with the owners to pay for the rooms.

“White River Junction is lucky at being at the crossroads of two highways, a bus line, fast food restaurants and in walking distance of services,” Redmond said. He said he’s had discussions with “four or five” hotels in the village and adapting to accommodate a homeless population during the crisis is a “good opportunity” for the hotel whose business “has gone to hell.”

For Glidden, the rapid changes over the past week have felt isolating.

“It’s just irritating because you can’t do anything,” he said. “I’m worried about our sanity.”

News staff writer John Lippman contributed to this report. Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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