By Dominique Johnson
In a late March communication regarding COVID-19, St. Vincent de Paul Juneau Interim Director, Dave Ringle, said to his board, “We are in uncharted waters. Poverty and homelessness will not hunker down; if anything, our services will become more needed.” Ringle and the staff of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) have stepped up to the challenge to continue their service to the most vulnerable in Juneau.
Ringle shared that SVDP began preparing for COVID-19 in late February after a dinner conversation with a local healthcare provider about the organization’s preparedness for when the virus arrived in Alaska. Starting on March 1st, the staff began discussing how they would respond and continue their services.
“Because we started at the beginning of the month, rather than when things got really serious, the staff has really stepped up,” Ringle said. To prepare, they stocked up on cleaning supplies at the beginning of March. At the time of our interview, Ringle shared, “We still have four gallons of bleach, though we will run out.”
St. Vincent de Paul’s services include low-income housing, senior housing, as well as the warming shelter. During this pandemic, they had to make changes to their operations for the safety of the people they serve and their staff. Besides regulating who comes in and out of their senior housing, “Each staff member spends an hour a day cleaning, so the seniors know we care about them and they know our facilities will be as clean as possible.”
To better meet the needs of the homeless population SVDP serves, the warming shelter was moved to the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC) in downtown Juneau. Before the location change was made, Ringle had a discussion with the warming shelter manager, Jackie Bryant, about the placement of cots in the Warming Shelter. They concluded that they could only keep people in the shelter at a 3-foot distance, not the suggested 6-feet. So, he said, “I asked the city for help finding a more suitable location.”
The City and Borough of Juneau granted St. Vincent de Paul use of the facility and that Friday, with the help of the SVDP staff, the warming shelter was moved into the JACC. “We moved everything over in two hours,” Ringle said. That same night, they opened to give the homeless a warm place to sleep. While talking with the people staying the shelter that first night, Ringle said he heard many thank yous, because the extra space, “relieved the tension some of the people had because of the close quarters.” He added, “They realize (COVID-19) is serious and they want to keep themselves healthy.”
Ringle said through this process, it has been great seeing his team and others in the community come together to help move the warming shelter, as well as providing food and other essential items.
Providing these essential services during this time of crisis has been hard on the organization’s budget, especially after having to close the SVDP thrift store. “The thrift store accounts for 30 percent of our revenue,” Ringle said.
With the possibility of hunker down regulations continuing until at least May, there is a need for community support. “The number one need is going to be donations. Some of that will be monetary, we will also need cleaning supplies,” Ringle shared. He added, “The Knights of Columbus of Juneau have already donated about three weeks of toilet paper.”
Through the long hours of service during this time, Ringle expressed that his faith in God has increased. “A side effect of my job has been an increased prayer life. Lines such as Psalm 23 ‘though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil for You are at my side’ take new significance during these times.”
To support St. Vincent de Paul with donations, please visit their website svdpjuneau.org.