Housing, feeding and providing basic necessities for people in need has been the Good Shepherd Center’s mission since 1983. What started as a soup kitchen has matured into a multi-faceted organization, committed to staying open throughout the COVID-19 health crisis, despite facing new challenges, such as an influx of patrons needing assistance.
“Our nightly numbers have increased from 60 homeless adults and children to 80-90,” says Good Shepherd’s executive director Katrina Knight. “That’s a real challenge on a ‘normal’ day, given the range of our guests’ special needs. We think we can meet the needs of about 100 folks, so we are watching the numbers closely.”
Despite the shelter pushing capacity, Good Shepherd continues to serve those most exposed to coronavirus. Folks who face homelessness are most vulnerable during a public health crisis.
“Having a safe place to go, a place to access resources, like food, clothing, mail, our on-site medical clinic, and information is of even greater importance at this time,” Knight says. “Our homeless guests, especially, already experience stress and anxiety as a result of their housing crisis, and now [there’s the] added uncertainty and worry everyone is feeling in the face of a growing pandemic.”
Due to safety concerns, Good Shepherd Center has asked its established volunteers over 60 years old, those with pre-existing health conditions, and those who have traveled to high-risk areas to stay home and refrain from assisting at the center. Thankfully, many regular volunteers do not fall into those categories. Still, Good Shepherd is experiencing a shortage of help.
“As they always do in times of crisis, our staff have been rolling up their sleeves and working outside their usual roles to ensure services are delivered,” Knight discloses. “The virtual lack of volunteers does pose a challenge to be sure, but we’re also trying to be very careful about how many new people come through our doors, in an attempt to keep everyone healthy. We are primarily calling on established volunteers but as their availability changes, that may change as well.”
Even though the center is adapting operations, they remain committed to transitioning folks from staying in the shelter to moving into their own homes. Case managers and housing specialists Deniell Faison and Joe Byrnes actively work toward helping people secure and retain stable housing.
“They are working miracles that also help folks achieve social distance successfully,” Knight reveals. “While most of our attention has turned to the immediate crisis at hand, we’ve still moved more than 10 homeless guests back to housing in the last two weeks. It speaks volumes about the creativity of our staff and their focus on housing placements, even for the most challenged of our homeless neighbors—and even in the face of so much distraction.”
The 60 residents of Good Shepherd Center’s two housing developments, the Sgt. Eugene Ashley Center and SECU Lakeside Reserve, are following current self-isolation and social distancing mandates. Good Shepherd delivers food and other supportive items as needed.
Ensuring the health of its guests, Good Shepherd maintains a close relationship with the New Hanover County Health Department to offer guidance to the center’s professionals in their on-site medical clinic. Having recently received a $150,000 grant from Cape Fear Memorial Foundation for general and mental-health intervention, Good Shepherd is monitoring guests developing flu-like symptoms. They then assist these guests in being tested for flu and care for them separately from other clients until they have recovered from their diagnosis of flu, pneumonia, bronchitis or another condition. Keeping the center healthy amid this pandemic is the top priority right now.
“Our nurse has been hugely helpful in reinforcing our educational efforts to the shelter group around the importance of frequent hand-washing and other preventative measures,” Knight says. “Though we attempted to begin stocking up on needed supplies a few weeks back, we will certainly need more masks and hand sanitizer.”
Part of Good Shepherd’s operations is to administer food to both center patrons and the general public. A hot breakfast, lunch and dinner are being served daily to homeless guests staying at Good Shepherd. Lunches are still free and open to the public, but have been converted to a to-go option outside the building, available 11 a.m. to noon, Monday – Friday.
“A number of low-income elderly and persons with disabilities rely on us for those meals, and every day they have expressed appreciation for our efforts to continue serving them, albeit a little differently than usual,” Knight says. “As everyone says, the situation is dynamic, but we are hoping to continue for as long as we are able.”
In order for Good Shepherd to continue their essential services, they need support. Unfortunately, they have had to postpone spring fundraisers, like the popular Empty Bowls. Still, they remain optimistic about holding previously scheduled events in the summer and fall, once the community is up and running again.
“Our team is working very hard to make sure there are no interruptions in service or operations, but without those fundraisers in this fiscal year, it certainly will have an impact on our budget,” Knight discloses. “We have to devote all of our attention and energy to service delivery right now, but it’s true—monetary gifts are in great need at this time.”
Donating money and items from their wish list is the greatest way the community can help right now. Wish list items include coffee, Kleenex, cough drops, Gatorade, bottled water, hand sanitizer, rice, pasta, soup, number 10 cans of fruits and vegetables, pancake mix and syrup, grits, snacks, sugar, milk, sliced bread, sliced cheese and deli meat and fresh produce.
“We are grateful to be remembered at a time when everyone is facing so much in their own lives,” Knight says. “Whether it’s a hurricane or virus or other crisis, the Cape Fear community rallies around Good Shepherd and our neighbors in need, and we could not appreciate that more.”
Anyone who needs emergency shelter or other services should reach out by calling 910-763-4424, ext. 102.