WATERVILLE — As the coronavirus spreads across Maine, Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter directors are preparing in case the virus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, strike a shelter resident.

According to Waterville’s Deputy Chief of Police Bill Bonney, officers assisted in moving 13 higher risk shelter residents, pregnant women and elderly residents, to area hotels. The city also delivered an automated external defibrillator to the shelter, Bonney said.

Katie Spencer White, the executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, said Monday her organization is looking for expert help set up an isolation room in case one of the shelter’s clients expresses coronavirus symptoms. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Katie Spencer White, the executive director of the shelter, said finding safer space outside the shelter for higher risk residents was complicated by red tape from general assistance means testing. Some use the shelter not because they have no money or income, but because they don’t have enough to pay rent, Spencer White said. The pandemic is a new situation for all involved in these decisions.

“We’re still trying to figure out the way forward,” Spencer White said. “How can we cut through some of that red tape to make good public health decisions?”

The shelter had a board of directors meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday to discuss this issue and others, board member Tom Longstaff said.

“We realize we have a very high risk population living in very close proximity to each other,” Longstaff said, and the shelter is discouraging visitors and limiting volunteers at this time.

The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter has 56 beds, as well as 12 small apartments for young adults ages 18 to 24 on the second floor. The shelter is full, Spencer White said, adding that requests for beds have been down over the last 10 days, as some who would request space at the shelter are able to shelter in place and hunker down temporarily with friends or family.

“We expect an uptick after these initial 15 days. It’s a temporary contraction. We expect that to rapidly go up in coming weeks or months,” Spencer White said.

Spencer White said the shelter’s conference room is being converted into an isolation room, in case it’s needed. The shelter is looking for a place to store the conference room furniture, she said, and also looking for expert advice on how to make the isolation room as medically sound as possible.

“We’d like somebody with medical experience to help set that up,” Spencer White said.

A shelter staff member is making cloth facemasks for use at the shelter, but donations of personal protection equipment would be appreciated, Spencer White said. Like virtually every walk of life, the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter’s staff is learning new things in the fight against the coronavirus every day.

“This is such a great community,” Spencer White said. “Be patient with us. We’re trying to figure out what our new normal looks like.”

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