Nancy Baglietto: Community collaboration helps keep homeless shelter safe throughout pandemic
Hospitality House has always been the recipient of widespread and unwavering civic involvement.
In the spirit of what we have come to know about our community, volunteers stepped up to deliver food; the Oaks Clubhouse at Lake Wildwood volunteered to cook meals until we could put additional staffing in place; local providers SPD Markets, BriarPatch Food Co-op, Grocery Outlet, Interfaith Food Ministries, Friar Tuck’s and the Nevada County Food Bank all jumped in to help with our increased food needs, as well as our food group volunteers.
While our volunteers couldn’t personally cook in our shelter anymore as a safety precaution, they nonetheless continued to do what they could by donating food and financial support.
Donors also came forward to help with our expansion efforts, underwriting many of our costs to ensure there would be no lapses in services. Homemade masks and PPE poured in. Crafts, painting supplies, and other activities were gifted to help keep our guests entertained during quarantine.
I can’t say enough how much we appreciate all of this. On top of public health being a concern, people’s mental health was a major concern, too, and having available activities to boost morale was and remains significant.
In collaboration with the county, motel expansion efforts went even further this past year in partnership with FREED Center for Independent Living, Turning Point Providence Center, Communities Beyond Violence and Sierra Roots. Together, we ensured social distancing mandates could be more easily adhered and together, we helped more people.
In total, Hospitality House served 639 locals in 2020. While that’s a sobering number for a small community like ours, I am also happy to share that 234 were transitioned back into homes of their own.
Throughout it all, our Nevada County Public Health Department remained by our side, offering recommendations amid an ever-evolving landscape. Behavioral Health has been and continues to be available too, hosting regular Zoom conferences to keep all homeless service providers up to date on the latest information not only on transmission rates and vaccination tiers, but also on how people are handling the mental health aspects brought on by COVID-19.
Despite this amazing collaboration, to say that this past year has been challenging would be an understatement. But this is likely true for everyone and for different reasons.
However, what makes Hospitality House’s situation somewhat unique is for nearly a year now, Hospitality House guests continue to be asked to shelter in place. Even as the rest of the world began to open back up, our Utah’s Place guests were asked to remain in quarantine lockdown, with some exceptions being granted for doctor’s appointments, work, mental health counseling, or related activities. We’ve continued to provide a high level of service, even after losing 300 loyal volunteers (and their absence is felt daily).
Throughout the year, we’ve continued to re-evaluate our emergency action plans and ways to improve our services and safety.
One need we identified was rapid access to COVID-19 testing and results. Some might recall at certain peaks this past year, testing results could take up to two weeks or longer. We needed to do better.
I reached out to some of my Bay Area connections to see if we could get some additional assistance. Developments led to not only increased PPE for the shelter, but also a testing lab in Menlo Park, known as Avellino Lab USA. This blossomed into an even-broader partnership including Western Sierra Medical Clinic.
Within a week or two of contracting with Avellino Labs, Western Sierra Medical Clinic was helping to lead the effort, bringing in teams to visit the shelter twice a week to offer onsite testing. Avellino gave us the results we relied on within 24 to 48 hours.
This partnership fast-tracked testing for new guests needing shelter and offered reassurance to those already sheltering in Utah’s Place that we were doing our best to keep the shelter as COVID-19 free as possible. Today, the onsite testing continues twice a week to all of our guests.
I’m relieved to tell you, that as of this article’s submission, not one guest in our shelter has tested positive. Not one. That means that as we (and by “we” I mean the collective we) pass the one-year mark, we have successfully kept every single guest in our homeless shelter safe from the virus. Our success is the community’s success and the spirit of what it means to be a Nevada County resident.
Now that I’ve provided this report, I hope to maintain our continued success. The reality is we are safe, we remain as prepared as possible for whatever comes next, and we will continue to serve alongside all of you. Should an outbreak occur, I know that we will continue to get through it … together.
We are a role model homeless services provider and we’re grateful to have supporters out there who value our work and who continue to further it every day to those who need it most.
We aren’t perfect by any means, but as long as Nevada County residents need help, we will continue to provide housing and homeless solutions.
Nancy Baglietto, MSW, is the executive director of Hospitality House.
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