As the coronavirus epidemic continues across the nation, the Grayson County Shelter is taking precautions while preparing for a surge in demand for shelter.


In response to the threat posed by the virus, which has spread to all 50 states, shelter officials said they are taking advanced steps, including loosening some restrictions, to both protect residents and make room for additional people.


“Basically, everyone is being affected, even the homeless,” GCS Executive Director Sheila Penn said. “We believe this will cause a surge where people who are in the community and are homeless will be seeking shelter to try get away from some of what is going across the country.”


In predicting the future need for space in the shelter amid the coronavirus epidemic, Penn said she was predicting not only for the current homeless that will be seeking shelter. In addition to the current homeless, Penn said others are on the cusp of it thanks to the current economic conditions.


“Some people are being evicted from their homes because they are unable to pay rent or their mortgage, so that will bring in another part of the surge,” she said.


Under normal conditions, the shelter has 42 bed in a dorm-style setup for its short-stay residents. However, in emergencies in the past, additional space has been made in staff offices.


Currently, the shelter is spreading out residents to limit the possible exposure and spread of the virus. If there is a need for more space, the shelter’s resale shop, which closed early into the pandemic, can house an additional 15 to 20 residents.


“If we are right about our surge projections, we're going to need more than we've ever had to accommodate in the past, which is why we have prepared floor space in our resale store for overflow,“ GCS Board President Jeff Coffey said.


“There is likely to be a time delay for the economic fallout to gain traction, so we are expecting the surge in a matter of weeks,” he added.


Traditionally, residents are also limited to staying in the shelter for up to 21 days in most situations as they look for work and a more permanent place to live. However, Penn said the board of directors has chosen to waive this limit and open the space throughout the current crisis.


“We are not holding them to a 21 day stay program,” Penn said. “We are a little lax on them on finding that employment because, in this stage of the game, how the coronavirus is hitting and spreading, people aren’t hiring as much as they used to. We’ve taken all of that under consideration.”


While residents are still required to search for work, much of the search is now taking place online.


Another restriction that has been waived is the limitation of who can stay at the shelter. Previously, the shelter was limited to single women and men over the age of 23 and 45, respectively, with no restrictions on married couples and families.


The decision to relax this requirement was not in direct reaction to the coronavirus, but instead discussions by Grayson College on its student population that is homeless.


With Denison’s recent decision to ask residents to stay home rather than going out in public, the shelter itself has gone into a partial lockdown, with the exception of individuals who must leave for work.


Upon returning, these residents are required to wash their clothes and take a shower before returning to their bedroom, Penn said. Both residents and staff alike are also scanned for a fever prior to being allowed in the building.


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.


For more coronavirus related news, visit http://www.HeraldDemocrat.com/coronavirus.