As the mask order rolls out, homeless shelters ask for flexibility

Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 8:43 PM AKDT
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but it wasn’t until that afternoon that Bean’s Cafe CEO Lisa Sauder had some answers on how that order would affect the mass shelter Bean’s Cafe is currently running at the Sullivan Arena.

“We have asked for some clarification from the [Emergency Operations Center] on exactly what that does mean for our clients,” she said.


but Sauder said she’s asked for some flexibility from the Municipality.

“We’re hoping to have people be wearing masks whenever they’re up and about in the facility and moving around, and asking EOC for some flexibility on if people are in their bunk, resting, that they don’t have to keep it on,” she said.

And it’s likely they’ll get that flexibility. In a written statement Monday, Carolyn Hall, communications director for the mayor wrote “the mask order applies to the homeless population in congregate shelters where physical distancing is not possible. Clients do not need to wear masks while sleeping or eating.”

A larger issue though is supply. The Sullivan Arena can hold over 300 people, and when they’re coming and going all day, Sauder expects a high turnover of masks.

“We’re anticipating, if they’re disposable masks, that we will use 400 to 500 masks per day,” she said.

That’s also around how many masks they have total.

Sauder said she asked the EOC for some assistance, and Hall confirmed that they are “working with shelter providers to procure disposable and reusable masks,” but for now Sauder says the Cafe is looking for donations from other areas to meet the new demand.

In the meantime, the situation gets more complicated for shelter providers. Asking someone to leave for not wearing a mask runs counter to the goal of providing them with a temporary home.

“If they can’t take off their mask here, there’s nowhere else they can really take it,” said Catholic Social Services CEO Lisa Aquino. CSS runs a number of shelters around Anchorage, including the Brother Francis Shelter. “Unless they walk out and go outside, and we really want to encourage them to stay with us.”

For now, both Sauder and Aquino say masks are an absolute requirement for any staff members and a strong suggestion for everyone else.

“We require all of our staff to wear masks the entire time they’re inside the facility, and for our clients that are here, to request them to wear masks throughout the facility,” Sauder said.

And while not everyone will be masked-up all the time, Sauder hopes the mass shelter, and the homeless services community as a whole will continue to stay COVID-free.

“Up to this date, out of all the people that have been tested here in shelter, we have not had one positive COVID case from any of our staff or shelter clients,” she said.

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