Homeless will get more space at Salvation Army shelters amid coronavirus, just as temperatures drop

The Salvation Army says people at its main shelter in Denver are not adequately socially distanced. As the region prepares for freezing temperatures, the city has approved an overflow shelter.

Nick Jurkowski, a United Airlines employee, volunteers to help transform the National Western Center into a shelter for unhoused men. April 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Nick Jurkowski, a United Airlines employee, volunteers to help transform the National Western Center into a shelter for unhoused men. April 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Salvation Army has been housing around 500 people a night at its Crossroads shelter off Brighton Boulevard. But until now, the men (it’s only for men) staying there have been housed more closely together than Salvation Army leadership wanted to see.

“We’ve really been trying, since March 13, to provide more social distancing. It’s just taken a while for everybody to figure this out,” said Maj. Mike Dickinson, divisional commander of the Salvation Army Intermountain Division.

He believes they have now. The organization just announced it will open an overflow shelter near 48th Street and Colorado Boulevard starting tonight. That way they can reduce the number of people at Crossroads and give them more personal space. It’s happening just in time: Temperatures are expected to be below freezing in Denver for at least the next four nights.

The Salvation Army and the city had to act quickly over the last two days. Dickinson said the plan had been to move Crossroads guests to a new facility at the National Western Center. But as soon as it opened on Thursday, the National Western facility filled up. Dickinson said negotiations and conversations with the city started the next morning.

“We just think we couldn’t wait any longer,” he said.

The city approved the move, and Dickinson hopes that means the risk to guests and staff will go down. People experiencing homelessness generally are in poorer health, which makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Yet so far, Dickinson says, “We have not had any positive cases at Crossroads.” The city public health department has been screening people at the facility. When anyone shows symptoms, they have been moved to individual motel rooms rented by the city, but Dickinson estimates that’s less than a dozen people.

“Honestly, we’re amazed and grateful that’s been the case,” he said.

Another change starting tonight is that both Salvation Army facilities will be open 24 hours a day and provide three meals a day.

The Salvation Army will shift about 250 people who have been staying at Crossroads to the 48th Street shelter. That will leave 250 people at Crossroads, who will get to space out. Crossroads will also have capacity for 50 more people who may walk in because of cold temperatures.

Another provider, Denver Rescue Mission, has moved hundreds of people to the National Western Center. The Rescue Mission had 709 guests there on Friday night. Its normal Lawrence Street day shelter has transitioned to only serving meals at this time, according to spokesperson Nicole Tschetter.

Dickinson said the Salvation Army is shifting around existing staff to be able to open the 48th Street shelter, and will work with the city and other partners to open more in the future if needed.

“We stand ready to continue to open shelters so every person in need can be served well,” Dickinson said.

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