Open Doors working to find temporary homeless shelter during pandemic

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 12:26 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Even though Harrisonburg City Council members approved an emergency ordinance allowing a local church to a homeless shelter, that does not mean that church will operate as Open Door’s shelter facility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way Open Doors operates, but people in the Harrisonburg community still need help from the shelter.

“Everything that we’re hearing is that we expect an increase in folks who are going to be needing shelter,” Joel Ballew, the Executive Director of Open Doors, said.

Ballew said most churches that have provided shelter for people that are homeless over the years do not have a large enough facility to socially distance guests.

Open Doors decided it would be best to find a temporary shelter rather than change locations every week like they would normally do.

Ballew said First Church of the Brethren is one of the locations they’ve been looking at, which city council approved to operate at a shelter from Oct. 1 until Dec. 31.

“The situation now is we need to work to figure out if it’s going to work at the location based on scheduling and other constraints,” Ballew said.

He said Open Doors has been in touch with the First Church of the Brethren about the future, but they have other options and plans in mind, too.

“First Church is in an area that is not zoned for a long term shelter operation," Ballew said. "By long term, I mean longer than two weeks and we’ve never run into this before because we’ve always shifted from location to location.”

The shelter season typically begins on Nov. 1, but Ballew said the demand for the shelter is there now, so Open Doors is working to secure a facility to open as soon as possible.

Along with searching for a large temporary space now, Ballew said the Open Doors Board of Directors is considering a few land options land for a permanent site for the shelter.

Copyright 2020 WHSV. All rights reserved.

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