FAYETTEVILLE — Northwest Arkansas nonprofit organizations continue to help those in need although the covid-19 pandemic has changed how.
Agencies such as The Salvation Army and Hark at the Endeavor Foundation work to provide the same quality of services while maintaining health guidelines to help prevent the virus from spreading.
Changes in how services are provided are the biggest impact these groups face, said Pam Hutcheson, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care, a nonprofit coalition working to end homelessness in the region.
Online and phone services are used instead of in-person visits. Agencies are also serving to-go meals. The lack of human contact and social interaction can be difficult for the clients, Hutcheson said.
Limited hours also make it harder for clients to know when certain places will be open, she said.
“How do we stay connected with the homeless population?” Hutcheson asked.
The Continuum’s list of people in need of housing has about 286 people on it, Hutcheson said. The number has gone down a little, but she thinks it will go up as they are able to see clients in person again.
Meeting social distancing guidelines for staff and volunteers also can be a challenge, she said.
Administrators of many local nonprofits have met to find ways to adapt and help each other during the pandemic. Continuum members meet weekly instead of monthly to show support and discuss issues, Hutcheson said.
The Salvation Army is one of the few places that has not scaled back services, said Capt. Josh Robinett, area commander.
The client intake process and meal services system has adapted as the organization provides resources during the pandemic, Robinett said. Social services are being done by phone, he said.
Robinett said dorms have been modified to meet health guidelines. Clients are now sleeping head to toe, their beds are being separated by shower curtains and they are completing symptom checks daily, he said. Masks are also required in all common areas.
Kari Scott, 50, has been staying in The Salvation Army dorms for around three weeks and has experienced the challenge of staying healthy while in a group setting.
“A lot of people want to talk to you or they want to shake hands and you forget it’s a dangerous time,” she said.
Scott thinks it can be difficult to impose guidelines when there are so many people from diverse backgrounds, she said.
“They remind you, ‘This is to protect you and whoever is around you,'” she said.
Precautions such as wearing masks and sitting spaced out during mealtimes have become the new normal for Scott.
Meals for those not staying in the dorms are being distributed to-go, Robinett said. The number of food boxes The Salvation Army is providing has been the biggest increase in services it has experienced during the pandemic, he said.
“In a normal month, we’ll do 80 to 100 food boxes,” Robinett said. “The last couple of months, we’ve done over 8,000 food boxes.”
Rental and utility assistance needs have also increased.
Hark at the Endeavor Foundation is one of the organizations working to connect those in need with others who can help, said Josh Hall, executive director.
Hark has helped 3,400 clients and has passed the $1 million mark in financial assistance since March 1, Hall said.
Of those, 1,300 received assistance through the Endeavor Foundation’s catalyst fund, a short-term financial assistance program designed to keep people from entering a financial crisis, Hall said. Hark helps residents connect to community resources in times of trouble.
The Endeavor Foundation has provided emergency funding to organizations to make sure they have the resources to continue meeting the needs of the community, he said. The organization works to track what services are available and where they can send people looking for help, Hall said.
Hark has kept the same hours it had before the pandemic, but is now offering all assistance online and over the phone, Hall said. Providing resources remotely is harder without in-person meetings and connections, but technology makes it possible to provide them in the “world of quarantine,” Hall said.