Crestview homeless shelter to reopen after COVID-19 spread among clients and staff

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW —  After being closed since mid-July because of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless (CASH) is set to reopen Wednesday.

The 12-bedroom shelter is at 120 Duggan Ave. Its regular full range of services for homeless people ended July 16 after 10 clients who stay at the facility overnight and three shelter employees tested positive for the virus.

Each of the 10 clients who got sick “said they’re doing better and they’re champing at the bit to get outside,” Ann Sprague, the shelter’s president, said Friday. “But I told them, “No, we’re not going to take (COVID) to the community. It’s too contagious and dangerous.' "

Ann Sprague (left), president of the Crestview Area Shelter for the Homeless, talks with Hannah Wilburn with All In Credit Union at the shelter in January. The shelter, which has been closed since mid-July after an outbreak of COVID-19, is scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

The clients “have been told to stay in their rooms,” shelter board member Karo Berardi said. “They come out long enough to get food and then get back into their room.”

Sprague said a woman and her two children who moved out of the shelter after it closed ended up getting the virus, probably from their stay at the facility.

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She added that family members of the three staff members who tested positive also now are ill.

“It’s a highly, highly contagious virus,” Sprague said. “Even people who were vaccinated got it.”

While Sprague and the shelter’s manager have kept working at the shelter since its closure, its other healthy employees have been working from home.

During the closure, the shelter has not been able to provide food, laundry services, showers, employment and health care assistance, and many other types of help to homeless people who live in the Crestview area. The current number of people served totals 80 to 100, Sprague said.

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“We’re not even doing our bag lunches right now,” Berardi said. “We were doing 50 to 80 a day, but we had to close that. Some local churches have stepped up to provide the lunches.”

The full array of shelter services is set to return with its planned reopening Wednesday, Sprague said.

She said the shelter’s street outreach employees have been buying tents, blue jeans, hand sanitizer and wipes for people who live on the streets.

“We’re telling them to mask up and use the sanitizer a lot,” Sprague said.

Staff and clients at the shelter routinely wore masks until the COVID positivity rate in Okaloosa County dropped below 3%. Mask usage then gradually decreased, Sprague said.

“What really got me was the (staff member) who used the mask the most got (sick with the virus) the worst,” she said.

On a brighter note, Berardi and Sprague said the shelter has been very successful in finding housing for many homeless people it serves. For example, it used federal “rapid re-housing” funding to house 24 people in May.

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The recent spread of COVID-19 obviously stretches beyond the shelter: In a Facebook post on Wednesday, members of the Crestview Fire Department shared details about a fundraiser set for Saturday to benefit Crestview Planning Administrator and Almarante Fire Department volunteer firefighter Trae Duley, who is recovering from COVID.

The fundraiser is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Winn-Dixie at 1326 Ferdon Blvd. in Crestview. Boston butts will be sold for $40 each, with all proceeds going to Duley and his family.

A fire truck and firefighting equipment will be on display at the event.

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