Puerto Seguro Safe Harbor is adapting to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic by taking whatever steps are necessary to continue accommodating Socorro County’s homeless and disadvantaged.
Working onsite with other volunteers, Puerto Seguro Incorporated Board Director Shay Kelley says the only day-use shelter for the homeless in Socorro is deemed an essential service and has been exempt from state closures.
“The CDC recommends that all services continue throughout the duration of this pandemic, even after detectable community spread, and even to people who are coughing or seem ill,” Kelley said in an email to The Chieftain. “Ideally, we would have the option to let all unsheltered people isolate or seek shelter in hotel rooms. We believe housing is healthcare, and our goal is to achieve adequate housing for every person in our community that wants it.”
Each day there are, at the very least, 60 people that are served by the facility and, Kelley said, somewhere around 100 separate individuals each week. Besides offering showers and laundry facilities, home-cooked lunches draw the bulk of their clients.
“Back on March 16, we moved our cafeteria services outside to protect people better, and moved our coffee and tea tables to the intake room, which has a door to the parking lot,” Kelley said in an email.”We’re serving lunch to 50 to 60 people over the two hour lunch period.”
Chairs are spaced six feet apart, and the standard picnic tables have been removed.
“One of our board members is with the Health Department, and we participate in conference calls with the State Health Department and the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness to make sure that we are kept abreast of any changes to regulations or suggestions regarding COVID-19 and how to best keep our staff and clients safe,” Kelley said. “We follow the CDC recommendations for Homeless Service Providers. We have cross-trained our volunteers in different stations to ensure that if we have a decrease in staff, we will be able to compensate and continue to provide services.”
Masks and gloves are worn by everyone in the facility and are distributed to everyone in the parking lot. Several volunteers have been hand-sewing masks to pass out to clients.
“We also require that people stay six feet apart in the parking lot, but we have set up chairs that are six feet apart,” Kelley said.
The door to the facility is currently blocked to prevent people from entering the building proper, so volunteers fetch drinks for people outside. Drinks are served in single-use styrofoam cups.
“Hot meals are distributed on disposable plates out of the intake door,” Kelley said. “Only staff members are touching our coffee pots, carafes, and tea coolers, and everyone on the staff is wearing gloves and masks.”
Since 2001 Puerto Seguro has been providing basic services, from case management to transportation services. Some have been put on hold for the time being during the pandemic, such as giving haircuts, but basic needs are still being taken care of.
For example, the washers and dryers, and showers stay busy.
Kelley said the showering scheduling is regulated to conform to COVID safe practices. Clients will sign up for either the men’s shower or the women’s shower and then wait outside in the parking lot for their turn.
“They go straight to the shower, and when they leave, we thoroughly sanitize the shower before the next person goes in,” she said. “In fact, all surfaces are sanitized several times a day, including doorknobs and light switches, countertops, and handles."
There is a bottle of hand sanitizer or a handwashing sink at every station at Puerto Seguro.
As for washers and dryers, “we only have one person in the building at a time to put their laundry in a machine or move it to a dryer, and then they wait outside for the cycle to complete,” she said.
The majority of our staff has been tested for COVID-19 and everyone has tested negative.
“We have contingency plans for each station. We keep our most vulnerable staff members at the stations where they will experience the least contact with people,” Kelley said. “In the event that someone who uses our services tests positive for COVID-19, we are prepared to work alongside the health department to assist in providing meal services and essentials while the individual is quarantined in a hotel room.”
Kelley said the real needs now are “young, healthy volunteers. COVID-19 disproportionately afflicts the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. Please volunteer your time.”
They also need sleeping bags and, as always, paper plates, coffee and powdered tea.
“The community has been amazing throughout this difficult time, and we could not do it without you,” Kelley said. “You are very much appreciated by our entire staff and the people who need these resources the most.”
Puerto Seguro Safe Harbor is located at 519 Old US Hwy 85.
Call 575-835-2895 for further donation information.