The coronavirus has impacted nearly every walk of life in some way, especially vulnerable populations like the homeless.
Columbia County Department of Social Services Commissioner Bob Gibson said Sunday the county’s homeless population has risen during the COVID-19 crisis.
But Gibson said his department has the resources to meet the challenge.
“We’ve taken on 25 additional homeless since the start of this crisis,” Gibson said. “Many are the ‘silent homeless’ who we don’t usually see — they may have been sleeping at a family member’s home, but now are unable to do so owing to social-distancing guidelines. The street is nowhere for them at any point, and particularly now.”
Gibson said grocery shopping has been a sticking point for the homeless during the crisis.
The elibigility process of recertification of DSS benefits has been streamlined.
“Deadlines have been extended by the state, which makes it a lot easier for everyone involved,” Gibson said. “You want to keep a flow of services coming.”
Greene County Social Services Commissioner Kira Pospesel said the state requested permission to make the changes to the recertification process from the federal government to prevent work from piling up while local departments are not operating at 100%.
“All these families are being affected throughout the state, so they needed to do something to keep moving forward,” Pospesel said.
Pospesel said she has not seen a rise in Greene County’s homeless population due to COVID-19, but there is an increase in applications for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits and Medicaid.
“The staff is doing an amazing job under pressures I’ve never seen before,” Pospesel said.
Columbia County DSS works with the Salvation Army at 40 South 3rd St. in Hudson, which operates the only soup kitchen in Columbia County that serves daily lunches.
“The community has been stepping up,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murrel said. “That’s really been one of the keys in helping us manage this crisis.”
Salvation Army Director Darcy Connor said within two weeks of COVID-19’s spread in New York, the center saw a dramatic increase in the community’s use of services.
While the center is seeing more traffic, Connor said she has no way of knowing which visitors are homeless.
“As with any crisis or disaster, we are already embedded in the local community, so we are already serving and will be here as long as we are needed,” Connor said. “We are now serving lunch to an average between 55 to 65 a day and food-pantry cases have increased from 45 to 55 each day, and we anticipate that these numbers are only going to get worse.”
The center is continuing to provide daily hot lunches on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meals are boxed or bagged for individuals to pick up.
The Salvation Army also provides a food pantry Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week from 8 to 10 a.m.
“Bags are pre-filled with food and placed on outside tables for families who need them,” Connor said. “We are also delivering food to the homeless living in nearby county motels, the elderly and any others at high risk for infection.”
Emergency food and supplies, supplemented by donations from local supermarkets and the Regional Food Bank, are being used in cycles, Connor said.
The Salvation Army’s food pantry received a large food donation from Columbia-Greene Community College’s food pantry, food that would have otherwise been left behind due to the COVID-19 school closures.
“They gave us everything that was there,” Connor said. “What happens is we get a big donation, but it goes really quick. Right now we have a lot of food, but a couple pantries and that will be gone.”
Connor said the center passed out and delivered approximately 85 bags on Wednesday alone.
While pre-bagging the food helps volunteers and visitors practice safe distancing, it is two to three times the work volunteers had when visitors could shop themselves.
The Salvation Army in Hudson has two paid staff; the rest are volunteers.
Connor said she has a few local chefs who are not working because of the restaurant closures who now volunteer at the Salvation Army.
“I can’t live without the volunteers,” Connor said. “We can’t do as much as we do without the volunteers. They’re amazing.”
The center is shelling out for costs that had not been budgeted, such as gas for food deliveries and takeout meal containers.
Milk giftcards are being purchased with extra funds and offered by the food pantry to families with children to pick up milk at Stewart’s, since the center has no place to store large quantities.
“It’s always been the generosity of our community that has gotten us through, and we need it now more than ever,” Connor said.
Abby Hoover is a reporter for the Register-Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.