Health officials continue to ask the public to practice social distancing during the novel coronavirus pandemic. For the homeless population, that's not an easy thing to do.

Aid for Friends is an emergency shelter for those facing homelessness in the Pocatello area. With the COVID-19 outbreak, the shelter is facing new challenges.

Aid for Friends Executive Director B.J. Stensland says, "We will keep the shelter functional and operating, but hopefully at a lower number of people staying there."

Right now, there are 40 people staying at the shelter. This is not ideal during an outbreak of disease. They need temporary housing to separate residents into smaller groups so those in the shelter have the ability to practice social isolation.

A medical professional from the Pocatello Free Clinic is offering the shelter some help in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Pocatello Free Clinic Medical Director Georgia Milan says, "You can't be six feet apart from anyone any of the time [in the shelter]. And so, the main advice is to educate about this particular illness, this virus, how it spreads and what people have to do to protect themselves."

To protect themselves, those in the shelter wear masks, wash their hands every 20 minutes and clean surfaces they've touched as preemptive measures against the virus while staying in the shelter.

Milan says, "The people in the shelter are very committed to helping each other, to really stand together to make this a safe home for everyone, but it's an impossible situation."

Many of those in the shelter already have compromised immune systems due to their current situation, and having that many people together isn't great for their health anytime of the year, but especially so during a time like this.

The shelter's doors are remaining open for those who need to take refuge. However, until the shelter can find temporary housing to separate residents into smaller groups, it's only a matter of time until the inevitable happens.

Milan says, "Coronavirus is going to come to the population and we just want to make sure we can isolate. Protect the community from the people who live at the shelter and protect the shelter from the people who live in the community."

To do that, the shelter is reaching out to local land lords, hotels, property owners and anyone who could provide temporary housing until the pandemic is over.

Stensland says, "Forty people in one building is just not safe."

Milan says, "Looking at the most vulnerable of the population, which is the homeless, these are the people that really need the community to open up because at a time when everyone is isolating physically we can spiritually be the closest to each other than ever."

During the pandemic, you can help the homeless by donating food, alcohol swabs, hand sanitizer and other disinfectants to the shelter. The shelter is asking that you don't donate clothing because the virus can survive on it for longer periods of time.

Donations can be dropped off at the Aid for Friends administration offices at 210 E Center St. Pocatello, ID 83201. To ask about how you can help, call (208) 232-0178.


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