'We have to stay open': Shelters prepare for Covid-19


Being told to self-isolate or work from home as the world grapples with Covid-19 is meaningless to people who rely on shelters for a bed and food. 

So how are some of South Africa's shelters adjusting to the declaration by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday that there should not be more than 100 people in a group?

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For Hassan Khan of The Haven, which runs well-known shelters in Cape Town suburbs and towns in the Western Cape, it is simple. 

"We have to stay open," he said, in between planning meetings.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health announced that 116 people's tests had come back positive for the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, a new type of flu.

READ | 116 and counting: Breaking down SA's confirmed coronavirus cases 

"We are an emergency service, an essential service, and we have a concentration of vulnerable people. 

"New arrivals to The Haven might be nutrient deficient. Within The Haven they have a safe space. They have food security and they have access to hygienic facilities," said Khan. 

He added it could not turn away new arrivals either.

"Because what we don't want is a person who may display particular signs, trying to cure himself on the pavement."

The shelters are increasing their cleaning and hygiene by acquiring hand sanitiser as well as the frequency of cleaning surfaces. At the doors they will be insisting on, and enabling people, to wash their hands. 

Hassan Khan

Hassan Khan (Supplied by The Haven)

People will also be hydrated by a constant flow of hot tea.

Each shelter will have an area with a dedicated bathroom in case isolation is needed, and to ensure there is no panic, they are limiting the number of people in kitchens, and there will be several sittings in the dining halls to reduce numbers. 

Khan is hoping some of the sanitiser that made its way into towering trolleys around the country, makes it way to them as a donation to keep up the heightened sanitisation protocols.

They also need old clothes that can be cut up and used as cleaning wipes, and then thrown away after one use.

He said it pained him to see that clothing donations would be used in this way, but they had to think smart. 

Carin Holmes, the public relations officer for the Salvation Army, said its homes have less than 100 occupants and were "one big family", so they did not have to reduce numbers.

However, it will not be able to accept newcomers for the sake of those already being sheltered. 

Its feeding programmes will not be affected though as these take place outside and not in a big hall. 

"Within our homes, we are trying to educate people as much as possible on hygiene and no hand-holding and kissing," said Holmes.

What they need the most is money to help continue caring for the people they are sheltering, and are hoping for donations.

Its corps (churches) would restrict the number of people attending its services with immediate effect, the territorial commander of the Salvation Army in southern Africa, Colonel Daniel Kasuso, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Haven

An education sign on Covid-19 at one of The Haven's entrances (Supplied by The Haven)

Inner city NPO Mould Empower Serve (MES), operates in Hillbrow, Cape Town, Kempton Park and Port Elizabeth, and noted in a statement it had been through many flu seasons with homeless communities before, but has made some changes.

They also care for children at early childhood development (ECD) centres , pupils in training centres, and after-school programmes. 

- They will increase hygiene and hand sanitisation.

- Fresh pens will be used for register sign-ins, or sanitiser will be next to the pens.

- Food groups will be split into groups of 20 or less, and food parcels will be delivered where possible to maintain good nutrition.

- If they suspect an infection, they will notify authorities and hand over their registers to assist with contact tracing.

- People entering night shelters will be screened every day for symptoms. If they show any, they will be isolated, and the authorities will be informed.

- Their ECD centres were closed on Wednesday and after communicating with the Department of Social Development, the monthly school fee for April will be waived to free up money to buy food for children who will be at home.

- Home visits will be limited to children-at-risk cases.

-  A transportation plan is being arranged to fetch staff for work so that they do not have to use public transportation.

- The public can help by supplying quick-to-prepare healthy food like two-minute noodles, instant soup, fruit and nuts, and hand sanitiser.

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