St Benedict's

St. Benedict’s operations manager Jeff Mattson, right, hands out face masks to Wesley Ward, left, and Keith Van Meter on July 24 at the shelter in Owensboro. The shelter has received around 3,000 masks from people in the community since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are an estimated 567,715 homeless people in the United States.

Roughly, the overall homeless population on a single night represents 0.2% of the U.S. population, or 17 people experiencing homelessness per every 10,000 people in the general population, according to whitehouse.gov.

During the age of COVID-19, many cities, both big and small, have struggled to maintain the spread of the virus in their transient populations. This is no exception for cities around the commonwealth dealing with Kentucky’s estimated 4,079 homeless citizens. However, in Owensboro and Daviess County, there have been few issues, said Harry Pedigo, St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter executive director.

“How we have contained it in our population is by leading by example,” he said. “We talk with our clients openly about how they are at risk and the need for them to pull together and work with us and avoid going against the grain. Without the help of our clients, it would have been a disaster. It comes down to keeping the facility clean and being mindful. If someone even seems to be sick, we isolate them in an isolation room. We jumped on these protocols before the lockdown even occurred. It is something that we had to do and we have made sure to keep doing it.”

Even when faced with individuals being dropped off by out of county agencies early in the pandemic, area shelters were able to extend aid, but as numbers continue to rise and shelters begin to pull back on new admittance, the time is coming to consider more stringent protocols, Pedigo said.

“We are full at the moment,” he said. “At this time we are only going to take people from Ohio and Daviess County. It is a good time to limit the amount of out of county clients, especially with more mandates coming out regarding travel. It will cut down the risk with people that are transient going from shelter to shelter from outside the county. We are keeping an eye on the mandates and as things change, we will make adjustments accordingly.”

There are numerous protocols that area shelters can take and Pedigo believes that as restrictions tighten, area shelters will begin to accept fewer intakes, he said.

“We aren’t on a full lockdown yet,” he said. “If that happens, we will go back to no one in or out of the facility. No volunteers in and we will have meals dropped off. Right now people can come in. They need to have a mask — the guys don’t because it is their home. We are doing deep cleans and pushing personal hygiene. We have sneeze barriers up and we are taking temperatures regularly...

“If these mandates increase, we will limit entrance and we will track where residents are going. A lot of shelters haven’t been filled because they were so selective. Many had elected to not take any new residents or clients. Restrictions have loosened, as I would say they are now, but as things tighten up you will see that as people leave, their spots will not be immediately filled.”

A major concern looming is a wave of people that will be forced out of their homes as eviction bans across the country expire. Recent estimates put the number of those that could experience homelessness nationally due to COVID-19 at roughly 20%, a number that could be likely in Kentucky, said David Ross, president and CEO of United Way of Ohio Valley.

“Our emphasis has shifted from food where we saw more people utilizing food banks than ever before, especially among those that have never used the service,” he said. “We then shifted to PPE and now the focus is on rent. The moratorium on evictions is over (on July 25). It is estimated that 20% of (renters) will be in the position of receiving an eviction notice. It doesn’t take long to realize that that is a huge need.”

As has been the case with area shelters, being proactive in the COVID age is what the partnerships between Daviess Fiscal Court, the city of Owensboro, United Way, Green River Community Foundation and Audubon Area Community Services have done with the Green River Area COVID-19 Response Fund.

Currently, the fund has collected more than $740,000 to invest in service agencies and aid programs — $300,000 of those funds were split between the city of Owensboro and Fiscal Court — with a bulk being donated by community members. In regard to rental assistance, United Way and Green River Community Foundation recently released $200,000 to The Daviess County Help Office and St. Vincent de Paul to aid those in need, said Ross.

“So many people are still waiting to receive unemployment and other benefits to kick in and they are hurting,” he said. “Many are months behind in rent and utilities. We are looking at some major needs in our community. A lot of it is going to depend on the landlord. The utility companies have been great and are asking folks to contact them and work out a payment plan. That $200,000 is to aid people that are facing these issues.”

To gain access to these services, Ross recommends reaching out to Audubon Social Support Services Director Robyn Mattingly at 270-686-1600, Ross said.

“They will be able to begin by drawing from federal funds through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program,” he said. “The goal is that they take advantage of the federal dollars first and then they will be referred to either the Help Office or St. Vincent de Paul to try and pick up the difference in the amount that the individual needs. There is no one size fits all in this pandemic and the help of these organizations will allow those funds to be used based on an individual’s needs.”

As far as the potential of the eviction ban ending, Gov. Andy Beshear’s office has indicated that it will remain in place.

“Kentucky’s order prohibiting evictions remains in effect though,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. “There are reasonable exceptions within the order. Currently, the Governor’s Office and other parties are engaged in mediation to try to find the appropriate balance that protects those suffering because of the pandemic but does not allow others to game the system.”

As programs continue to grow and local agencies await the release of federal CARES Act funds to meet the ongoing needs brought on by COVID-19, one thing remains the same — the commitment of the people of Owensboro and Daviess County, said Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.

“I am very pleased with how our area providers have stood up to these issues and the forward-thinking of organizations like the Daviess County Emergency Management Agency,” he said, “...as well as the general response of our local governments and public of their donation of funds to bolster the relief funds.

“The community has stood tall during a crisis and taken care of our citizens that are in most need of our help.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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