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'It's horrible': Spokane shelters have to turn people away due to COVID-19 guidelines

To keep people safe, homeless centers must operate at less capacity.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — People in Spokane experiencing homelessness already have to deal with the harsh winters, but now COVID-19 has complicated resources. 

Adjusting to the pandemic has not been easy, said Union Gospel Mission Director of Ministries Joel Brown.

"It's horrible. We don't want to turn anyone away ever," Brown said. "We reduced our capacity here at the men's shelter from 185 to 120."

There is only one bed left at the shelter and recovery center in downtown, he said. 

"We'll be at capacity now until March or April next year," he added. "We're not taking people in and we know they're on the street." 

The City of Spokane issued new guidelines for shelters to follow in March. That includes symptom checks every day, bagged lunches, and possibly the most difficult one - physically distancing guests. Shelters are usually designed to keep people in close quarters.

The beds are spaced at least 6 feet apart. This limits the dorm to 12 clients instead of the typical 20.

Credit: Morgan Trau
Dorm beds at UGM

The guidelines prevent the center from helping as many people, but they are working. So far, he men's shelter has not had a single case.

"I don't know if that's luck if that's blessing or what, but we're happy," said Brown.

City of Spokane spokesman Brian Coddington said they are working on a regional response with Spokane Valley and the Spokane Regional Health District due to the increased need for space. This way, more people can stay out of the cold, while still following social distancing protocol.