The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an already strained social services system into extreme circumstances. This comes at a time when Oregon already had the second highest rate of unsheltered people in the country, and the third highest rate of chronically homeless people in the U.S. Prior to the pandemic, 35 people out of every 10,000 in the state had no shelter, and 62% percent of the state’s homeless were living outside, in tents, or cars.
Our pre-Covid-19 service model was to provide a hospitable day shelter inside the modest basement of the First Immanuel Lutheran Church. We were already facing overcrowding due to the rapid increase in need in our community. Once we were faced with social distancing requirements, we knew we could not keep our guests safe by bringing them inside our walls – which was literally the opposite of our sanctuary service model. We also had to limit the number of volunteers who enter the building- depleting our human resources from 895 active volunteers a year to only a handful and a small staff of 10. We had to make the hard decision to pivot our services to at the door only throughout the outbreak, focusing on basic survival needs and pausing our wellness and empowerment activities.