Coronavirus forces local shelter to refuse new guests for first time in 54 years

Posted at 3:23 PM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 20:19:24-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va.— Local shelters have run out of space to house the homeless as the demand for a haven during the pandemic has increased.

From Norfolk to Newport News, homeless shelters are being forced to shut their doors to some of the most vulnerable among us.

The Union Mission Ministries was forced to stop taking in new guests last Thursday because of the risk of coronavirus contagion.

“We’ve never had to close our doors because of the risk of contagion. It was always a matter of being at true capacity because all of our beds are full,” said Associate Director William Crawley.

All of their beds are full, more than 300 of them— serving men, women and children— and there’s no telling when the demand will subside.

“We want to be wholly observant of just taking care of the persons that are here, but we do hope that there’s a light at the end very soon,” said Crawley.

Over on the Peninsula, things aren’t any better. The Peninsula Rescue Mission closed their doors to new guests on Monday for the first time in history that they can recall.

“The [Peninsula Rescue] Mission has been in operation since 1966, and to my knowledge this week has been the first time we have been closed and unable to accept anyone new who walked through our door," said CEO Alan Defriese.

The 40 beds in their men’s shelter are all taken, but they are committed to keeping the men they have there now until the crisis is over.

“We were getting a lot of guys in, sending a lot of guys back out, and that’s obviously not good for the tactics that we are to be following to limit the spread [of coronavirus],” said Defriese.

Related: Local shelters lack funding to house victims amid COVID-19 crisis

In these dark times, an unexpected opportunity for some of PRM’s guests prove there is hope for a brighter future. During the coronavirus pandemic, many grocery stores have started hiring a surge of new employees to help keep up with the demand— including six men at the mission who are now working their way to independence.

“For a guy to be able to live rent-free and work a job for three or four weeks and just save that money set some up in a way that we are typically unable to do,” explained Defriese.

The Regional Housing Crisis Hotline is the starting point for anyone who is experiencing a housing crisis throughout Greater Hampton Roads. Anyone who needs assistance is strongly encouraged to call the Housing Crisis Hotline at 757-587-4202.

The Newport News Department of Human Services’ Housing Broker Team can be reached at 757-975-5200; the team provides voluntary services for households at risk of or experiencing homelessness. The housing broker team receives referrals from the Regional Housing Crisis Hotline.

While Newport News' Four Oaks Day Service Center is closed, they are still providing services to the homeless. They have mobile showers available on Wednesdays and Fridays, and port-a-potties are also on site.

Click here for full coronavirus coverage.