Rev. Jack Jones began wondering something else: where do people without a home shelter from this virus? Where do they go to "stay safe"?
Jones, an ordained UCC pastor serving the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, has been helping those experiencing homelessness for years. Every Sunday for the past 8 years, he has helped organize a breakfast and worship in his church. Jones walks from table to table each Sunday asking for prayer request. He finds that housing is always on the list.
Jones says the people he speaks to are frightened. Many of them have compromised immune systems due to health issues or injuries and are often in and out of emergency rooms where the risk of contagious viruses is higher. Many sleep in shelters in close quarters with others who are coughing at night. Jones says he's heard of at least one shelter that had a person test positive for the Covid-19 virus.
Jones is concerned for those who cannot find safe places to practice social distancing. "They are the very most vulnerable of the population to catch the virus," he says. "They call me from the shelters. They're really scared."
Jones has a plan. He has been collecting tents to give to people experiencing homelessness. The idea is that these people will have a place to go where they can spread out, avoiding crowds and close contact with others, and have a place to spend the night, practicing safe distancing during this pandemic.
The question becomes: where do you put these tents?
Jones has three of them in his own backyard currently, but he has an ambitious plan to involve partners all around the Providence area, among them several private properties, campgrounds and Irons Homestead Camp and Retreat Center, owned and operated by the Southern New England Conference, UCC. Jones envisions campgrounds offering 1-2 camp sites designated for the relief tents, up to five per site. He has a similar plan for hosting several tents on the Irons Homestead property, a proposal that intrigues the property's leadership.
"During this challenging time, SNEUCC Outdoor Ministries staff at Irons Homestead are pleased to be in communication with Rev. Jack Jones. SNEUCC leadership and our team at Irons are actively exploring a potential partnership, consistent with our Vision to join with others for the common good," said Kate Ostertag, the retreat center's director. "We look forward to more details about how Irons might serve as an emergency camping site, expanding the current homeless shelter support system. We are committed to ensuring the safety of potential guests in need of housing, as well as our own staff and volunteers. We hope that the site will prove suitable, and logistics manageable, so that we can move forward."
Jones is already deep into the logistics. The board of the newly formed non-profit SHINE (Supportive Housing Increasing New Entrances) has permitted him to work steadily on this project. Along with collecting the tents, Jones is organizing the availability of portable facilities and running water to these sites, either by purchasing equipment or negotiating a fee scale for campgrounds that provide facilities. He is also working hard on a grant proposal to the Rhode Island Foundation in hopes that he can secure funding for the project soon.
In the meantime, Jones has a local farm willing to take a few of the tents and he plans to get those set up a soon as possible. He continues to gather tents and supplies, communicate with folks in need and potential partners, and look for ways to mitigate the issues that have surfaces with this pandemic.
Drew Page is the Media and Data Manager for the Southern New England Conference, and a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer as a Dean at Silver...