As Places for People has enacted physical distancing policies recommended during the COVID-19 crisis, most team meetings are held by phone or Zoom. On Friday, Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Program Manager Don Shipp participated in several zoom conference calls as he kept abreast of the latest updates from his team members and supervisors.
The backdrop for one of his earliest zoom conferences was an encampment of unhoused individuals, with the Mississippi River on one side of the camp, and a flood wall covered with graffiti on the other side. Wearing a blue mask and latex gloves, Shipp, a former Director of Shelter Services at Peter & Paul Community Services, participated in the video call after finishing a drop off of food and water at the camp.
Shipp has represented Places for People as the St. Louis City Continuum of Care provides meals and water to 15 encampments of unhoused individuals twice a week during the COVID-19 crisis.
On Friday, the sites were divided between Americorps volunteers, and several other helpers from different organizations throughout St. Louis.
“When I go, I’ll keep a distance from folks, so I don’t get them sick or vice versa, and I’ll ask them if anybody’s feeling sick, any symptoms, and just kind of screen for if anybody needs help or that sort of thing,” Shipp explained at the loading dock Friday morning.
Shipp also tries to scan the stops for any individuals served by Places for People, but so far has not seen anyone.
On Friday morning, after all the vehicles were loaded, Shipp rode in his green truck with his son, Adam, who is a senior at Missouri S&T, and Suzanne Kenyon, a former Places for People co-worker who now works at DePaul USA.
The team had two drop points near the east edge of downtown. The first was located at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Memorial Drive, with tents clustered together protected by the interstate above.
The Shipps and Kenyon put down one meal pack and water bottles for each person six feet apart in front of the tents, and engaged with three people living there. They asked if they were healthy, if they knew what to do if someone became ill, and asked what other needs they might have.
The next stop was off of Leonor K Sullivan Boulevard on the riverfront.
Previously, the drop off was coordinated with a phone call to the camp and individuals living there would meet the team at the end of the boulevard and carry the items back themselves. The usual contact did not answer, so Shipp, Shipp and Kenyon loaded a little wagon to take the items to the camp.
Shipp didn’t mind making the trek. “I felt more comfortable being able to go back and talk to the guys and check in and see what’s going on,” Shipp said later in the day.
Twenty-two people and one dog, Lily, are living on the banks of the Mississippi River. One individual said he had been there for seven or eight months.
Camp leaders distributed to the food and water, making sure everyone present received one, and that anyone absent had their supplies in front of their tent. Tarps, trash removal, port-a-potty were some of the needs expressed by members of the community.
“I wish almost everybody in the world could do what we did today,” Shipp said Friday afternoon. “I heard a lot of gratitude. Like ‘yeah, we’re going to make it. Yeah, we could use some more tarps, we could use more fire wood, we could use a hot plate,’ but I didn’t hear anybody that felt like giving up or hopeless. And these are folks that are pretty on the fringe, so that’s just inspiring.”