Jaymes Sime serves as Executive Director (ED) of MICAH House, “a homeless shelter with two priority populations: families… and single women,” based in Council Bluffs, Iowa that had managed to remain COVID-free until late July. At the time of our conversation, Sime reported that they had not had a single case of COVID-19. When discussing their strategy for keeping MICAH House safe, Sime details three main areas of focus that contribute to that success: Design, Timing, and Communication.
Design: As Sime described, many shelters for people experiencing homelessness share a large open bunkhouse and/or common spaces for mealtimes, restroom facilities, and, at times, waiting lines for programs or services offered by the facility. Sime explains how that set up is “not conducive for [controlling] any type of virus,” not to mention the lack of privacy and dignity.
MICAH House offers a different structure. Although some rooms in the shelter are shared, five-foot dividers between each bed help maintain discretion while also limiting the transmission of illness among residents. Additionally, the number of women allowed in the facility was reduced by 20% at the start of the pandemic, providing spare, private rooms for residents awaiting test results.
Timing: The second part of Sime’s formula for the success at MICAH House revolves around timing. As soon as Jaymes and his team learned of COVID-19, they rallied into action. In early March, a plan to control the virus was set in motion. An eight-page document was written and circulated to outline “internal protocols, [discussion of] social distancing, isolation, and quarantine.” Sime also created a short video for those who process information differently.
Shortly thereafter, masks were issued to clients and staff, with staff setting the example by wearing masks throughout the day. In addition, stations were set up with hand sanitizers and thermometers. According to Jaymes, the practices and procedures are continuously reviewed and reinforced in a variety of ways, ensuring that both staff and clients appreciate the significance of the situation, including the virulence of the contagion, the ease and rapidity of its spread, and the importance of caring for and respecting one another. Sime believes that the swift call to action played a critical role in keeping COVID-19 at bay. Both the seriousness and the clarity of measures taken left no doubt for those living or working at MICAH House.