Cities working to provide shelter to homeless during winter months while in pandemic

(CBS News) – As the coronavirus pandemic enters the cold winter months, the nation’s capital and other cities are working to provide relief from the cold for the homeless while protecting against the coronavirus.

The Department of Human Services in Washington D.C. says teams have been providing daily outreach, making sure the homeless know about resources available.

“We got warm blankets, shelter information, water, snacks,” announced one of the DHS outreach crews visiting tents near the U.S. Capitol on a cold December afternoon.

Down the street, Central Union Mission is still without a single COVID case, nine months after the pandemic took hold in the United States.

“It’s taken a lot of work, but also a lot of sacrifice,” said president and CEO Joseph Mettimano.

The men living at the Mission have been sheltering in place since March, taking health and safety precautions since the start.

Washington Capitals Center Lars Eller donated funds for special UV sanitizing technology now stationed in the door frame near the front entrance of the shelter.

“You have to go into this for 20 seconds; stand in each position for five seconds,” said Mettimano demonstrating how the device works.

“This uses far UV light, tested by universities around the world to make sure it’s safe.”

“The men who are staying here in this building, including the staff, have had to be very diligent,” Mettimano continued.

Resident Darryl Craighead is not complaining, grateful for a safe place to stay, especially since he’s also recovering from prostate cancer.

“I don’t take my health for granted, the way that I used to,” said Craighead.

He says COVID has changed his priorities, and he wants those on the outside to know that help is available.

“Come on inside from the cold,” said Craighead.

Central Union Mission is making room, adding new residents in groups of five after a strict two week quarantine and testing.

“It’s not in our DNA to say no to people who are out in the cold,” said Mettimano.

Cities around the country are also stepping up to help those in need. Officials in St. Paul, Minnesota plan to lease an old hospital to shelter around 100 homeless individuals. In Oregon, Portland’s three outdoor emergency shelters are replacing regular tents with heated housing pods.

Nationwide, the need is expected to extend well into next year.

“We don’t believe that the full negative impact of COVID-19 has hit the economy yet which means we’re going to see more people put out of jobs permanently and probably more people on the street,” said Mettimano.

He and others in the field worry the worst of the economic pandemic is far from over.