“From the homeless standpoint, 30% have some sort of lung problems,” said Chip Berry, Greensboro Urban Ministry’s director of development. “Health problems that make you a target for COVID-19, such as diabetes or heart problems, are more prevalent in the homeless population. Those that we serve are vulnerable people, but they are even more vulnerable during this time.”
Greensboro Urban Ministry’s mission is “to express the love of God to our neighbors in need by offering food, shelter and solutions,” and now more than ever, the entire Greensboro community is in need.
“We are really doing the same things we always do,” Berry said. But because of the pandemic, some adjustments and changes have been made at GUM recently.
Berry said that GUM houses 100 beds for individuals in its main location and has 60 efficiency apartment units in The Pathways Center for families.
“In an emergency like this, we have had to cut back a few of the people as they left—we have not replaced them so we could spread the beds out further in the shelter,” Berry said.
GUM, in addition to being a shelter, also provides about 500 meals a day (breakfast and dinner)to the guests staying there. They also serve an additional 300 plus people a day for lunch. Before staying away from others became the new norm, GUM had a dining room capacity of 150. It is now down to 32 to comply with social distancing guidelines. Additionally, Berry said lunch is bagged or in a container and passed out at the door where people stand in a line, separated 6 feet from each other.
“One of the changes we’ve had to make is we really don’t want to utilize the dining room for that many people. So, the lunch is a bag-lunch, and sometimes it is hot food, but we hand out the lunch at the door rather than have people in and serve them,” Berry said. “We hand out literally hundreds of lunches per day. There are no requirements; we don’t know who we serve or what their needs are. We serve them until either the food is gone (which is rare) or we run out of folks.”
Another change includes increasing the amount of food and the variety of food in GUM’s food parcels from the organization’s food pantry. Berry said these parcels would include a lot more fresh food, like vegetables and fruits, as well as nonperishable items.
“At this time, we are allowing for people to come once a month (instead of only five times per year),” Berry said about the food pantry. “We are really gearing up for the next couple of months to provide emergency financial assistance to families and individuals.”
Berry said these families and individuals do not have to be homeless to get assistance. He said GUM is expanding its services to help the entire Greensboro community, where thousands have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
“Someone comes in and sits with a caseworker,” Berry said of the process. “They show their bills, and we work up a budget. We will call their landlord, and we will help them pay their rent and their utilities.”
During this crisis, Berry said that GUM increased its budgets for emergency assistance, and changed the rules where there was a maximum number of assistance funds used in a person’s lifetime or how much they pay on rent.
“We are dropping those things so we can provide more assistance to more people knowing that the need is greater right now,” Berry said. “When we give financial assistance to these individuals, it is just like food stamps, and it is just like unemployment: it has an immediate direct impact on the economy. Economists would call it the multiplier effect— that is how you build your GDP. By us doing this one thing, that person passes it on, and it is going into the neighborhoods that have the biggest need. Those are the programs, and we do this 365 days a year, 24 hours a day; we are never closed here, and during this crisis, we are doing more.”
Berry urged for those who are struggling financially to make an appointment to see how GUM can better serve them.
“One of the messages we want to get across, we are not just a homeless shelter and soup kitchen,” he said. “We serve the broader community, and our financial assistance programs help keep people from being homeless.”
Even though evictions and utility cut-offs are being suspended at this time, Berry said GUM still wants people to come in and seek that assistance.
“We are taking care of the homeless, but a big part of what we do and a big part of what other social agencies do are helping people stay in their homes and not become homeless,” Berry said.
According to the website, to apply for emergency assistance with utilities, folks can walk in on Monday and Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. without an appointment. An appointment must be made for any other day of the week by calling (336) 553-2659. For rent and mortgage emergency assistance, make an appointment by calling (336) 553-2657.
“We want people to reach out to us because we are here to help them,” Berry said.
In terms of what GUM needs from the community, Berry said the organization always needs volunteers.
As of April 6, the website states that GUM is in need of “donations to the food pantry. We are especially low on peanut butter, canned meats and canned fruits.” Food pantry drop-off is located at 1002 S. Eugene St. in Greensboro.