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Warming shelters adjusting or not opening this winter due to COVID-19

Experts say lack of access could mean more exposed to virus
Posted at 3:18 PM, Nov 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-27 16:23:36-05

When snow falls in a flurry and the weather is cold outside, escaping the elements becomes a top priority.

With COVID-19 causing some warming shelters to stop operations this winter, however, the impacts could literally mean the difference between life and death.

“We’re going to see a lot of people die to be perfectly honest,” said Robin Wood-Mason with The Delores Project, a homeless shelter in Denver, Colorado, that focuses on women and transgender folks.

He says during a normal winter, this shelter can provide a warming space for dozens of people each day. But with a static population and a lack of social distancing, local health guidelines have forced them to shut their doors for warming shelters this season.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Wood-Mason said of the warming shelter not being able to open this winter. “Here in Denver, we’ve got thousands more people experiencing than there are shelter beds available.”

Across the country, other warming shelters are also being impacted by COVID concerns.

“We’re just starting to inch into those winter months when we know things are going to get colder, things are going to look and feel a little different into our regions,” said Andrea Carlson with the American Red Cross.

She says the days of having people packed in to one large room to get warm are gone. Now, they’re putting people into multiple separate spaces and following new COVID safety protocols.

“Distanced between each other, masks are required, you do have some health checks when you come into the warming center,” Carlson said.

As winter weather rolls in, and limited capacity issues mean more people are staying outside, The Delores Project believes more people will be exposed to harsh weather and the virus.

“It means that we’re really going to see people get sick,” Wood-Mason said. “It’s going to put a new burden on the hospital system and our first responders.”