Hesed House is Staying Open During Coronavirus Outbreak

Hesed House is Staying Open
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How Hesed House is Staying Open

The coronavirus outbreak has forced many shelters across the state to shutdown. But for Aurora-based Hesed House, that’s not an option.

Hesed House

Ryan Dowd, Executive Director of Hesed House

“We’re the second largest shelter in the state and we serve a lot of individuals who are incredibly vulnerable,” said Hesed House Executive Director, Ryan Dowd. “So the human toll if we shut down would be just catastrophic and we’ve taken extraordinary measures in order to make sure that we stay open no matter what happens.”

One way they’re supporting the around 200 people they shelter is by being prepared. Though they don’t have any COVID-19 cases yet, they’ve begun taking extra precautions.

The organization converted a warehouse they own across the street into a third shelter building to practice social distancing.

“It’s spreading people across three spaces instead of two as well as allowing us to keep people who are more vulnerable, if they catch the disease, isolated from everyone else,” said Dowd.

Warehouse converted into third shelter. Credit: Ryan Dowd

Families are in one shelter, older individuals are in another, and the younger, healthier people have been moved to the converted warehouse.

Protecting Staff

Other ways the non-profit is staying ahead of the game is by setting up potential quarantine zones, bleaching surfaces areas, and equipping their staff with N95 masks.

Dowd and another staff member are living at the shelter so someone is always there. Some other members will stay home on certain days so if Dowd and the other staff member are exposed to coronavirus, there are available personnel to run the shelter.

Dowd said it’s crucial their workforce is protected because if many of them need to self-quarantine for 14 days, it will cause a shortage of staff at the homeless shelter.

The executive director knows it’s only a matter of time before coronavirus “gets into the shelter” which is why they’re trying to prepare as much as they can. He said one incident that happened years ago has helped with that.

“We actually had a large tuberculosis outbreak 10 years ago. We were the second largest tuberculosis outbreak in the history of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and it was horrible, but it also prepared us for this better,” said Dowd. “So we already knew what a N95 mask was and how to work them, we already had an isolation room with negative pressure, we already had contagion protocols in place, we already have staff that know how to work contagion-control protocols. And so this horrible part of our history actually has been a blessing for the current situation.”

Credit: Ryan Dowd

How You Can Help

If you would like to help, the shelter is asking for nonperishable food including cereal, granola bars, pop tarts, and bottled water.

You can follow along to get daily updates on the situation at the shelter through Dowd’s “Hesed House Video Diary.”

Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.