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Union Gospel Mission in Spokane locks down men’s shelter amid COVID-19 outbreak

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 5, 2021

The sign for the Union Gospel Mission shines in the twilight on Jan. 25, 2018. The mission has been forced to temporarily close its men’s emergency shelter due to a COVID-19 outbreak.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
The sign for the Union Gospel Mission shines in the twilight on Jan. 25, 2018. The mission has been forced to temporarily close its men’s emergency shelter due to a COVID-19 outbreak. (JESSE TINSLEY)

Union Gospel Mission has temporarily closed its men’s emergency shelter to new intakes due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

There are 30 active cases of COVID-19 at the shelter, and 70 men have tested positive since Christmas, the nonprofit announced in a news release on Thursday.

Five of the shelter’s staff are also out due to COVID-19, although UGM did not specify whether they had tested positive for COVID-19 or were quarantining due to potential exposure.

Based on an average 70-80 new intakes per month during the pandemic, UGM expects that closing the shelter to new guests for about two weeks will force about 30 to 40 people to seek shelter elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, this added step is necessary to stop the spread. UGM recognizes that this will put additional pressure on the rest of the shelter system,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

Demand for shelter space for single adults has been high, according to shelter providers, a trend often seen during the winter months. Last week, Catholic Charities announced it would close a temporary warming center for families and redirect resources into providing more services for single adults.

Like other shelters in the city, UGM reduced its capacity when the pandemic hit to meet social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Spokane Regional Health District.

In response to the outbreak, UGM worked with the health district to impose additional safety measures, according to the news release.

The guidelines, such as sleeping guests 6 feet apart and continuous wearing of masks, are intended to stem the spread of COVID-19, but don’t make a shelter impervious to it, and Union Gospel Mission is not the first Spokane shelter to go on pandemic lockdown.

In November, Family Promise’s Open Doors shelter experienced an outbreak that quickly reached 39 guests, all of whom went into a collective quarantine, and three staff members.

Despite reducing capacity and expanding space between guests, several other shelters have experienced outbreaks during the pandemic, according to Spokane Regional Health District data.

Union Gospel Mission expects to reopen the shelter to new intakes on Feb. 14.

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