ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The House of Mercy Task Force said it plans to reopen the House of Mercy on Friday, after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the shelter to close its doors on December 29.
24 shelter guests, four volunteers and six staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.
According to the task force, the reopening will take place in phases.
The first phase will last two weeks and enable a 10% capacity in the shelter. Prior to launching Phase 1, the task force will test staff, and engage in deep cleaning, screening, contact tracing, PPE and vaccination plans for staff and shelter guests.
Janet Williams is the medical director at the House of Mercy. She’s leading the task force focused on COVID-19 safety in the shelter.
“We’re gonna start slowly and make sure we’re doing things as safely as possible. The homeless population and homeless shelters are like a perfect storm when it comes to COVID, where people sleep together, eat together,” Williams said.
Before reopening Friday, Williams and her team are training all staff to make sure cleaning, screening, masking, and distancing protocols are clear.
“If there are staff or residents that are not adhering to the policies, we’re gonna give them warnings that they need to, but if they are unable or unwilling to abide by these safety policies we’re not gonna be able to have them in this congregate setting.”
The shelter will also test everyone twice per week. Williams said arrangements are also being made to start vaccinating guests in the next few days, something she said is crucial to the homeless population.
“They do tend to have high-risk underlying medical conditions and live in congregate settings and some people were so fearful of going into a shelter that they’ve just been on the streets. We’re happy the state has designated the homeless population as a high risk group that warrants vaccination.”
House of Mercy staff have begun receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and before February all staff will be vaccinated.
This reopening is limited to the overnight shelter. The soup kitchen and other auxiliary services will remain closed. As the risk of COVID-19 is mitigated, capacity and services will gradually expand.
“It has been difficult for us to close our doors to those suffering from cold and homelessness. Please pray for House of Mercy during this painful time. With the support of our community, I am optimistic that we can safely reach capacity in the coming weeks and months.” Sister Grace Miller, Founder and Executive Director of House of Mercy said in a statement.
House of Mercy, the largest homeless shelter in Upstate NY, has an 82-bed capacity.