Most people saw plans upended by the coronavirus. Few, perhaps, have had to adjust more quickly than Rescue Mission CEO Donovan Coley and his team.
Opening of the Rescue Mission's new center near the heart of downtown has been years in the planning. The goal was to have the center ready to accommodate 300 residents by the end of the summer – more than three times the capacity of the Rescue Mission's Superior Street facility, with far more space for all.
A March 16 meeting with the Allen County Health Department changed all that. Then-Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan told them homeless shelters around the nation were proving to be especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
The emergency plan put in place the next day would move residents in phases. The mission used its facility on Superior Street as an “incubator,” or quarantine center, to be sure residents entering the new facility were virus-free.
The first residents transferred to the new facility last Monday – those the mission calls “program residents” who have already made a commitment to long-term participation in the mission's development program.
Now the mission is moving 40 to 50 residents from a facility on St. Marys Avenue to the Superior Street site for quarantine before bringing them to the new facility. Anticipating the coronavirus crisis could strain its facilities, the mission bought the St. Marys site in March.
“As we transverse the landscape of uncertainty,” Coley said in an interview Thursday, “the plan is to operate both our Superior Street and our new facility,” with separate dining facilities and careful screening of residents. “The plan is to make sure that we are able to monitor and control” the groups, he said.
So far, the strategy seems to have worked. “We have had zero positives” for coronavirus, he said Thursday.
There are plans for the new East Washington site to provide space for up to 16 agencies, including the library, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services of Indiana, Blue Jacket and Indiana Wesleyan University. Parkview Health will be funding a medical clinic staffed with two nurses and a social worker, Coley said.
But those plans won't fully blossom until the pandemic seems under control and the mission gets the OK from the Allen County Board of Health. “We want to be wise,” Coley said.
In the interim, Coley emphasized, the mission will be serving more residents than ever before. The organization is working with the city on a plan to provide services to some displaced during the start of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The Rescue Mission isn't the only group working with the homeless in Fort Wayne. Some deal with those who are homeless by choice, preferring to remain on the street and firmly rejecting programs such as the Rescue Mission's. All the varied approaches are needed in dealing with the problem, especially as continuing uncertainty about the economy and the coronavirus linger.
The Rescue Mission's rollout plan was disrupted, but it's clear the new site will be a big step forward in this community's efforts to serve the poorest and most vulnerable.