How Daybreak Center is keeping its homeless clients safe during a pandemic

The Joliet shelter has a number of mitigations in place to help prevent the transmission of COVID

It’s often challenging for the average person to keep up with – and practice – COVID-19 mitigations, especially now that the omicron variant transmits so easily.

So how does that work in a homeless shelter?

It didn’t – at first.

Catholic Charities’ shelter clients were moved to hotels in March 2020 and returned to the shelter on Sept. 15, 2020, after the shelter was reconfigured, Kathleen Langdon, director of development and communications for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Joliet, said in an October 2020 Herald-News story.

“We put 110 people up in hotels,” Langdon said in the story. “Catholic Charities paid for all their food and all their rooms.”

Partitions between the sleeping areas are still in place, said Courtney Suchor, director of Daybreak Center in Joliet, as are a number of preventive practices.

“We have tried to maintain the highest standards we can given the type of facility we are to prevent any transmission of infection,” Suchor said

Suchor said the center is professionally disinfected several times a week and staff and clients are “constantly disinfecting.” Everyone is required to wear facemasks, except when eating and sleeping, and the center practices social distancing, she said.

Residents are screened for COVID-19 symptoms and have their temperatures taken twice a day, Suchor said. Anyone coming into the facility also is temperature-checked, she said.

When Daybreak Center recently opened as a warming center, people coming inside were tested to make sure they didn’t have COVID-19, Suchor said.

She said that the Will County Health Department has been a great resource to help keep residents and staff as safe as possible, as well as to care for people who are positive for COVID-19 and “return them as quickly as possible to the shelter when the quarantine period is over.”

“We have experienced some positive cases over the course of the past month, particularly with omicron,” Suchor said. “Fortunately, the individuals who tested positive for COVID have not gotten very sick.”

Suchor said Daybreak Center doesn’t have any areas for people who test positive for COVID-19. Instead, COVID-19-positive clients are relocated to a hotel to shelter in place.

“We do provide them with food and other supplies needed for the period of time they need to be quarantined according to [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines,” Suchor said.

Suchor said Daybreak Center had just restarted its noontime meal for nonresidents in October, but that service has been paused again. Only shelter residents can take their meals in the onsite dining area, she said. The volunteers who help prepare and serve the meals are isolated from the clients and stay within their group, Suchor said.

However, not all volunteers are coming to the center to prepare and serve meals, she said. Some prepare them offsite and drop them off at the center for staff to serve. Others order catered meals, Suchor said.

“We appreciate that, as well,” Suchor said. “But we can definitely use the extra set of hands to help serve the meals.”

Like other nonprofits, Catholic Charities is experiencing staffing shortages, Suchor said.

“That has made our work more challenging, as well,” Suchor said. “So if anyone is looking for a job, they should go to the Catholic Charities website. There’s a lot of them available.”

For information, visit catholiccharitiesjoliet.org/daybreak-center.