MANCHESTER, N.H. – Hope Tabernacle Church on Cedar Street has long been a key supporter of the homeless population in the Queen City. That fact remains true even during the COVID-19 pandemic, although the crisis has necessitated changes.
According to Hope Tabernacle Pastor Juan Rivera, the church still gives bag lunches to Manchester’s homeless population, but have begun to give the lunches for only 30 minutes a day and outside of their building to avoid crowding that could spread the deadly disease. Rivera also reports that his church recently has only been giving out around 15 lunches per day at the church, around half of what he’d normally see, with volunteers heading around town to offer lunches to other homeless individuals across the city.
Still, he reports that the homeless people he and his volunteers are meeting are doing their best to prevent further spread coronavirus, the cause of COVID-19.
“Believe it or not, they’re doing okay and they’re trying to follow CDC guidelines from what I’ve seen,” said Rivera. “They’re trying to social distance and not shake hands. They appreciate that people are still trying to help them.”
Rivera says he has been in contact with the Manchester Health Department and other local officials to provide comfort and safety for Manchester’s homeless population during the ongoing crisis, efforts not lost on city hall given Rivera’s work in the past.
“This winter, on extremely cold nights and when the shelter was full, Pastor Rivera and volunteers opened their doors and provided a caring atmosphere and shelter to our most vulnerable residents,” said Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig. “Now, in the midst of COVID-19, Pastor Rivera and Hope Tabernacle have again stepped forward to help coordinate volunteers in a time of great need. I’m incredibly grateful for him, and Manchester’s faith community.”
While local and state authorities have created surge facilities across the state in case of hospital overcrowding with COVID-19 cases, there is not currently a coordinated plan to provide ways for New Hampshire’s homeless population to find shelter from the disease in case of homeless shelter overcrowding, with efforts like Hope Tabernacle’s providing a backstop to relieve pressure on Families in Transition and New Horizons, Manchester’s two main homeless support organizations.
A recently unexpected $100,000 grant to those two organizations is helping to provide a secondary facility, with Rivera saying that the organizations’ primary facility nearing capacity as of last week.
According to New Hampshire Joint Information Center Spokesperson Larry Crow, there is a possibility that the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services may engage in efforts to help the homeless as needed, but the state’s primary focus toward helping the homeless is geared toward those infected with COVID-19, a fact that stems due to limited resources.
“Even in the best of situations it can get difficult to help people and this is by no means the best of situations,” said Crow.
UPDATE: Rivera has informed Manchester Ink Link that his initial estimate was inaccurate and Hope Tabernacle is regularly distributing 30 to 40 meals per day, but that amount is lower than the total prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.