Jackson’s only homeless shelter needs more canned goods but plans to remain open to provide food and shelter during the coronavirus pandemic.
The mission is about half full with 17 people sleeping there. There are 26 beds for men and five for women, four of which were taken Monday.
“People that are staying here, we’re not going to kick them to the curb while they’re here,” said Executive Director Chuck Fidroeff. “Single men or single women, we’d be happy to help them. Everything is business as usual. We’re just not inviting the outside in.”
There’s fear in bigger cities that homeless camps, where hundreds of people live in close contact without the ability to quarantine, receive medical care or have access to cleaning facilities or supplies, could be ripe for an outbreak. Wren Fialka, executive director and founder of The Spread the Love Commission, a nonprofit, is working on a plan to safely get care packages with “hygiene kit” items like hand sanitizer to places like Salt Lake City.
“If it hits the population of people experiencing homelessness, it’s going to go right through them like wildfire,” Fialka said. “I’m losing sleep over that.”
While tent camps aren’t a winter concern in Teton County, Fidroeff said he’s trying to focus on helping those already in the community and not encouraging outsiders to make the trip to the valley during what are likely to be tough economic times.
“We’re curtailing to see if we can get people not to come from out of state,” Fidroeff said. “I’m telling them on the phone, ‘There’s not much work here right now. Until this is over, why don’t you wait.’”
Fidroeff said anyone who’s hungry can call ahead and he’ll have food for them at the back door. Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church usually serves lunch during the weekdays but stopped doing that for the sake of public health; the mission is following suit and trying to keep any gatherings to a minimum.
“Usually when they shut down we open up, you know,” Fidroeff said. “But we didn’t think that was a good idea for us either.”
He has reached out to the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole for help restocking the pantry. The foundation recently announced the activation of a community emergency response fund to support local nonprofits helping those directly impacted by COVID-19. The foundation committed $150,000 to the fund, and donors matched that. (See related story on page 3.)
You can sign up for volunteer opportunities to help nonprofits addressing the virus on the foundation’s website.
“This community is so generous, so giving, it’s incredible,” Fidroeff said. “I think everybody in place, we’ll be able to weather this storm and come out better in the end.”