The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt not only in the country and state but also in Mason County.
On Wednesday, March 18, Hospitality in the Name of Christ (INC), a homeless shelter for men, made the tough decision to close its doors for the season, six weeks earlier than scheduled.
“This was an extremely difficult decision to make,” said Tammy Martin, a director with Hospitality Inc.
Martin, along with the board, felt it was the most responsible thing to do for both shelter guests and volunteers during this worldwide crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both Tim and Tammy Martin are directors for Hospitality Inc. They both said they’ve done everything in their power to stay in contact with each of the 16 guests of the shelter since it closed for the season.
That has included helping one guest get to Clio to stay with family and another to Texas.
Tim said every year before the shelter closes, the staff sits down with the guys and talk about a plan for when the shelter closes. This year, that meeting happened six weeks earlier than expected.
Prior to the closing of the shelter, the Martins and shelter staff took steps to prevent COVID-19 by cleaning, disinfecting, adding sanitation stations and putting up signage at the shelter. During prayer, which is typically right before dinner, it was explained to the guests that hugging and hand-holding for prayer needed to end. They also talked to the guests about the importance of washing hands.
“Our whole intention was to get through this season,” Tammy said. “It was never our intention to close up shop.”
As the shelter was moving forward with putting these preventative measures in place, a stomach virus went through the shelter affecting guests and several of the volunteers.
“Something as simple as the stomach flu we were not able to control that in the setting that we were in,” Tim said. “At the Tuesday (March 17) board meeting (the second meeting in three days), I said I think we are fooling ourselves. If someone comes down with the coronavirus we would have to shelter in place and that would mean everybody, including out volunteers.”
Tim said, at that point, it would be housing 20 to 25 people in a basement with no ventilation.
“If we can’t contain the stomach flu, we probably can’t contain the coronavirus,” Tim said.
At that point it was pretty obvious to Tim and the board what needed to be done.
“I know our board made the right decision,” Tim said. “Especially after Gov. Whitmer made her executive order on Monday.”
On Tuesday, March 17, Tim talked with the shelter guests and informed them all of the situation and what the plan was going forward.
Tim remembers one of volunteers saying during the Tuesday evening discussion “here in the United States we are kind of united we stand. It seems like the opposite here, we are going to fall if (we) are united but if we divide and separate, we probably stand a better chance of surviving this thing.”
Tammy said during that time they were trying to figure out a place in the shelter for isolation.
On Wednesday, March 18, after much prayer and thought, the shelter ultimately closed for the season.
“Bottom line is how much risk are we going to take?” Tammy said. “We are just a bunch of volunteers trying to to a good thing.”
After making the decision the close Hospitality INC, the goal was to get the 16 guests somewhere, connected with family and friends.
“We did not promote camping, hotel or another shelter, as none of those options are optimal choices in the midst of this pandemic,” she said. “Finding a place where they can join family or friends where they are safe and cared for and they are able to care for others is ideal.”
The men were given food, a gift card and each guest has a location to stay. Tim and Tammy Martin along with some board members will remain in touch with them.
Tim said that local church volunteers will also help to provide them with meals a few time a week.
Hospitality INC plans to open for its 12th season starting Nov. 1.
The Jericho House, a Christian-based women’s shelter, is open according to their director Christy Sniegowski.
Sniegowski said the house did not close, and the three women currently living in the home are sheltering there while abiding by the rules of the executive order given by Gov. Whitmer on Monday.
“We have always stressed washing your hands,” Sniegowski said. “I think that we are doing fine. We are not closing the doors. We are going to do our due diligence.”
Residents of the home are also living through construction for water damage that has cost about $70,000 worth of damage to the facility, according to Sniegowski.
“We had extensive water damage here,” she said. “We are working around it the best we can to weather this storm.”
Sniegowski is also a board member with Hospitality Inc. and said the guys know that if I can help them in any way i will.
“We do try to not only be a resource for just women we do what we can to help the homeless community.”