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At most shelters, the homeless are still welcome but not volunteers

At most shelters, the homeless are still welcome but not volunteers

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In this 2014 file photo, volunteers assemble Thanksgiving dinners to be delivered to those in need at the Buffalo City Mission. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Most local shelters are still welcoming the homeless inside – but not volunteers.

And the meals are takeout.

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted agencies in the Buffalo Niagara region to cut back programs and reduce contact with the homeless.

The Buffalo City Mission and Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier in Niagara Falls have barred volunteers from entering their buildings because they might bring in the virus or be exposed to it.

Major shelters continue to admit homeless people, except in Lockport.

Lockport CARES said Wednesday that it will stop admitting newcomers until further notice. The faith-based agency has 19 beds, with four occupied as of Wednesday.

"We really felt like it was important for us to suspend operations, not only for the safety of our guests, who come and go every day, but also our volunteers and volunteers' families," said the Rev. Kevin Wing, the executive director. "It was getting to a place where we couldn't manage it safely."

Other shelters have decided to keep their volunteers out.

Aubrey Calhoun, associate executive director of the Buffalo City Mission, said the best way to ensure safety and practice good social distancing is to eliminate the use of volunteers until further notice.

"We don't know where they have been," Calhoun said. "We don't know where they have traveled. We don't know if they are sick. It will help cut down on the amount of screening that we need to do, because we're already doing that with our residents and community guests before they come into our facilities."

Wednesday, the mission's daily community meal program was converted to a bag meal format for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals to go are now distributed for a half-hour at the Ellicott Street entrance to the men's center.

"We're trying to be vigilant," said Lisa Freeman, executive director of Compass House, which has barred volunteers from its youth shelter on Linwood Avenue. "What if a kid comes in there who has coronavirus, and then our shelter gets quarantined? We're trying to do everything to prevent that from happening."

Friends of Night People, which serves meals but does not house residents, has limited the number of volunteers to four per shift, Executive Director Joseph S. Heary said. The meals at the Hudson Street building are now takeout only.

"We've told everyone over 60 or unhealthy to stay home," Heary said. "I'm looking at getting a thermometer and taking temperatures of volunteers before they come in the building. We're still serving 175 meals. People still need to eat."

Friends of Night People and the City Mission have stopped accepting non-monetary donations, and the City Mission closed its Depew thrift store until further notice.

In Niagara Falls, Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier also has barred volunteers or community members from its facilities.

The 50-bed shelter is nearly full, although some residents are "transitioning out," so there should be space for the time being, Executive Director Robyn L. Krueger said.

"Right now we're asking people to check back rather than just allowing them into the agency," Krueger said.

Community Missions has converted its lunch for the poor on Buffalo Avenue to a take-out format.

Its food pantry will continue to operate three days a week, but food will be handed out at the door. Its clothing and furniture giveaway programs have been suspended.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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