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Topeka Rescue Mission working through COVID outbreak

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 7:34 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Topeka Rescue Mission is still battling a COVID outbreak.

It has been on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s COVID-19 exposure location list for the past month.

Data from the Rescue Mission shows 44 of the 126 guests are in quarantine, 38 of the 72 men’s shelter guests and six of the women and family shelter’s 40 guests.

Six residents total are in COVID isolation.

Executive Director Barry Feaker said while the organization has not had many cases of severe COVID illness, it does not stop the challenges.

“It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever faced,” Feaker said Monday.

“When you’re homeless, it’s challenging enough but to be in the pandemic situation we’re in, with the particular protocol and protections we’re having to take, it is very difficult for people to be in a homeless shelter right now and for volunteers and staff to work in one, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Feaker said because the Rescue Mission is a congregate shelter, guests must quarantine for at least 10 days, as opposed to the CDC’s recent quarantine guidelines for most people to quarantine for five days.

“This makes it very, very challenging for people to be able to get jobs, get housing for people to move on with their life,” he said.

“You add on the other issues that oftentimes associate themselves with homelessness addiction, mental illness, and so forth, it makes it for a very difficult time.”

He said the nature of the virus competes with the nature of the Rescue Mission.

“These shelters around the country, like ours, are not built for a pandemic to where people have to stay in a room for an extended period of time,” he explained.

“It’s basically a place to sleep and then help them get involved in programs to help them get back on their feet.”

Feaker said guests at the women and families shelter sometimes get separate rooms for quarantining, while men’s shelter guests quarantine using dormitory rooms that can house up to 16 people at a time.

They’ve also created additional space for guests who are COVID positive and some people with jobs who are not sick or exposed have been moved to hotel rooms, so they can keep going to work.

“There are individuals who say ‘I can’t be in this situation’ and they return to homelessness outside the Mission, that’s one of the reasons we have our outreach team out trying to make sure if they can’t handle it in a congregate shelter, that we can go try to find them to make them safe especially in the winter,” he said.

“We’re just like the rest of the world, can’t wait till this is over so we can get back helping the homeless.”

Feaker said the Rescue Mission does have steps it can take if someone needs help especially when temperatures fall below 40 degrees.

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