Alexandria, VA

Carpenter’s Shelter is working through the COVID-19 pandemic without its cadre of volunteers, and people are now staying at Alexandria’s largest homeless shelter for longer periods of time, according to the organization’s executive director.

“The days have been long and the challenge is great, but the best perspective on all of this is that our work and our mission has never felt more critical than it does right now,” Carpenter’s Shelter Executive Director Shannon Steene told ALXnow. “We are seeing more people in the shelter for longer periods of time, and all in the context of asking our volunteers not to be volunteering at the shelter for the health and safety of our residents.”

The pandemic has forced Carpenter’s Shelter — located at the vacated Macy’s department store at Landmark Mall — to ask its 1,200 volunteers to stay home, and Steene’s staff of 25 employees are going outside their job descriptions to make sure that the organization’s 60-bed emergency shelter remains operational and that the virus does not make its way in. Carpenter’s Shelter is also still operating its hypothermia shelter.

Steene said that Carpenter’s Shelter needs grocery store gift cards for individuals and families and hand sanitizer. He also said that residents and staff are taking daily temperature checks.

“We have deputized staff and residents as wipe down warriors, so there’s a lot of wiping of any touched surfaces going on,” he said. ”

Usually there are upward of 20 volunteers working at Carpenter’s Shelter every day –out of 1200 volunteers — and Steene said this is the first time in the organization’s history that volunteers have not helped weather a crisis.

“We have had winter storms where five staff members have stayed in the building for 52 hours at one stretch just making sure that everything is safe and suitable for the residents, but this is the first time in our organizational life that we haven’t had volunteers in the shelter,” he said. “And I’ve got to say that our volunteers are embedded in our culture and the energy. We look forward to when all of this is under our control and seeing those volunteers come back into our work. They’re the lifeblood of what we do.”

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