Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.
Creative thinking and community connections have allowed the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky’s (ESNKY) doors to open in a new location — but not the one planned for this fall.
The winter shelter closed on March 13 because it could not meet the Center for Disease Control’s six-foot social distancing requirement amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has closed many similar centers over the last few weeks.
Kim Webb, executive director, said she had hoped to re-open by Monday, March 16, but employees became symptomatic over the weekend and she didn’t want to expose anyone. However, when outside temperatures began dropping on the 18th of March, she knew she had to do something. She tried booking hotel rooms for a couple of days, but it wasn’t possible because they had laid off staff.
Mrs. Webb then read an article online about how similar organizations in Oregon were using public spaces like convention centers for the homeless. She put in a phone call to Judge Executive Kris Knochelmann with the idea of using the NKY Convention Center. He returned her call with a “yes,” she said.
After a furious day of work contacting local partners and Kenton County Emergency Management, Mrs. Webb acquired cots, medical assistance from Welcome House, and by 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, “We had 45 adult men tucked in and each had their own 10-feet by 10-feet area — all in all 40,000 square feet and restrooms.”
The space features beds, meals, games and a large projector screen with Netflix set up. Mrs. Webb and her team are attempting to make the place feel like home.
She has definite plans for two weeks. Half of the space is set up as an isolation side should they need it. By March 27, she had 66 men sheltered and the beds are all full.
“I wanted to see if we could assist in some way with the small population and (the shelter) keeps people from moving around,” she said. It worried her that people had no place to go, since movement is what spreads the virus. Now they are only allowing people to leave if they have a doctor’s appointment or if they’re working.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my community partners in Covington who said yes when I reached out,” said Mrs. Webb. “Everybody willingly jumped in and provided something and they’ve all been integral to the success.”
While each business is running their own work, they’re taking the time to make sure ESNKY stays running.
Volunteers from local churches and the community are allowed in on a monitored basis, and Mrs. Webb organizes daily 11 a.m. phone calls with community partners to see what’s needed. Generous donors from places like Trinity Episcopal Church provided the bills for dinner and breakfast, which are being supplied by local restaurants.
She also said she’s been working to meet codes by communicating with the fire department. Nurses from Welcome House are conducting temperature checks every four hours.
Mrs. Webb also contacted Father Michael Comer from Mother of God Parish, Covington, who put out a call to his congregation to see what they could do. Brave volunteers are delivering meals to the convention center from local businesses like Pee Wee’s Restaurant who are providing meals to ESNKY. The parish also hosts a vibrant prayer group who keep the sheltered in their prayers.
Mrs. Webb said the most useful way for the community to help right now is for individuals to donate directly to the shelter, especially since she’s trying to provide opportunities for staff to work and get paid during this time.
Generous donors have provided meals and supplies, among other things. Other partners include: Be Concerned (cleaning supplies), Breakfast Mission of Covington, Brighton Center, Catholic Charities, Covington Fire Department, Fairhaven Rescue Mission (night staffing and providing lunch), HealthPoint, Kenton County Emergency Management, NKY Health Department, Pee Wee’s Restaurant (dinner every day), Salvation Army- Kenton County, The Lords Gym (showers at Queen’s Gate, corn hole supplies) and Welcome House.
For Mrs. Webb, “The story is becoming about how the community partners said yes without hesitation. This is a very public way to show how we were able to come together quickly,” she said. “In 30 minutes, a crazy idea was off and going