Daelin Brown | Staff Writer
NEWPORT NEWS- Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced the United States to shut down, the Peninsula Rescue Mission homeless shelter did not let the pandemic stop them from sheltering the homeless population of Hampton Roads.
“We have been operating as close to normal as we can. The people who are in the shelter still have to eat, so our doors have been open throughout the entire pandemic,” said Paul Speight, director of development at Peninsula Rescue Mission.
The Peninsula Rescue Mission has a team of about 20 staff members, but they rely heavily on volunteers that serve meals. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter experienced a drastic decrease of hands-on volunteers.
“During the shutdown we lost more than half of our volunteers. When we did away with check out at the shelter, we were providing everything ourselves,” said Speight.
Usually, the Peninsula Rescue Mission gives people the option to check in and check out a bed when they need a space to sleep. The one big change during the pandemic was that the shelter was not letting anyone check out. Therefore, when people are checked in, they have that bed available to them for 6 months.
The pandemic also put the shelter at 50 percent capacity from June of 2020 until November of 2020. However, even with half capacity, they did not have to turn anyone from the shelter.
“When you work with the homeless population, they tend to be an isolated group anyway. Their concerns were the same as ours were and being outside was safer in their minds anyway,” said Speight. “Even in winter months, we only filled to full capacity a few times.”
When the Peninsula Rescue Mission opened back up fully, at first only 30 percent of their volunteers came back, but gradually, the number of volunteers increased.
Even with less volunteers and full capacity, the shelter had generous donations. Many people recognize the homeless population to be the most vulnerable population in the Hampton Roads community, especially during a pandemic, so the shelter found themselves with an abundance of strong financial support and new donors.
“We have been very blessed in the area that our donations have remained strong over the pandemic,” said Speight. “Homeless shelters and food banks were two subcategories of nonprofits that tended to perform pretty well.”
Many organizations like churches and schools that didn’t want to participate in hands-on volunteering participated in the shelters’ “adopt a meal” campaign.
“We had a campaign called ‘adopt a meal’ and donation groups would purchase meals from a local restaurant. This helped both local businesses with sales and saved our staff workers a night of work,” said Speight.
Over 100 different groups helped donate to the shelter in the midst of the pandemic and the Peninsula Rescue Mission was able to receive over one thousand dollars worth of meals.