Citing the extra funding and logistical challenges it faces due to COVID-19, a Lowell homeless shelter is seeking the community’s help in meeting the need for its services this coming winter season.
The Lowell Transitional Living Center, the largest homeless shelter north of Boston, is appealing for donations of funding and supplies such as food, bedding, cots, blankets, and pillows for its winter emergency bed program, according to the group’s executive director, Andrew McMahon.
“Our winter bed program is always in need of financial assistance and support, and this year more than ever as we go into uncharted territory,” he said. “We have never had a winter where we have had to deal with COVID before.”
In addition to its winter program, which runs from Nov. 1 to April 1, the Middlesex Street center operates a separate year-round shelter program for homeless people and a smaller program for homeless individuals at risk for HIV/AIDS. In total, it shelters about 1,500 people annually, according to Funmi Yusuf, the group’s development manager.
The winter program targets homeless individuals who avoid shelters in other seasons and simply need a warm place to sleep. Unlike with the year-round programs, its guests are not required to work with center staff to seek housing and other services. All winter and year-round guests receive meals.
McMahon, whose agency also operates 12 subsidized single room occupancy apartments and six units for the chronically homeless, said COVID-19 “has put a dent in our ability to raise money,” noting that because they were held virtually, several of the center’s regular fund-raising events were less successful this year. While the center receives support from local, state, and federal agencies, its winter program relies primarily on private donations.
Also due to the pandemic, volunteers have all but stopped dropping by the center to donate or prepare meals, a source of support the center has relied on in normal times, McMahon said.
The loss of assistance comes as the center struggles to keep pace with demand for its shelter beds. After 42 guests tested positive for COVID-19 in April, the center worked with the city to implement safety policies. There have been no further cases, but social distancing requirements have forced the center to reduce its capacity from about 75 guests to 30 for the winter program and from about 90 guests to 55 for the regular year-round program.
“The available space wasn’t even enough before and now because of COVID it’s even less,” Yusuf said.
McMahon said the expiration of the state eviction moratorium could result in more people facing homelessness, further straining the agency’s ability to serve all who need shelter.
“We haven’t run into it yet, but God forbid we have 100 people showing up some night,” McMahon said of the winter program. “I don’t know what we would do with them.”
While the center has been housing some clients in a Chelmsford hotel as one way to address its reduced capacity, McMahon said the high costs involved makes that an impractical solution.
In addition to donating to the shelter, itself, McMahon said community members can help the agency assist the homeless in other ways.
“If there are landlords that would like to work with us to provide units, or if employers are willing to hire some of our folks, that would be great,” he said. “All those things work towards getting people out of shelter and into stable housing.”
And with the holidays approaching, McMahon said he hopes there is a general “heightened awareness of the needs of those who are homeless, and an understanding that it isn’t always a self-inflicted wound. There are a lot of circumstances that cause it.”
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.