Hundreds from the Colorado National Guard are assisting those experiencing homelessness in the state as part of its COVID-19 response.
A report showed 9,619 Coloradans face homelessness on any given day, according to Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As part of a multifaceted role in helping the community combat the spread of COVID-19, soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 157 Infantry Regiment (Mountain), are helping Denver’s homeless by serving meals, conducting wellness checks and providing administrative assistance at the Denver Rescue Mission. Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Crowe is the NCO in charge of Task Force Shelter Support Alpha whose mission is to provide widespread support to various shelters that are operated by non-governmental organizations.
“Our soldiers are providing food distribution, facility maintenance and clerical duties in our assigned shelters,” he said.
Within 24 hours of activation, 100 soldiers completed classes in donning and doffing of Personal Protective Equipment and basic decontamination procedures from the Medical Prevention Officer assigned to the Task Force, Crowe says, with continuous training and medical screening since and layers of junior leadership maintaining standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Soldiers wear N95 masks, protective gloves, and other PPE depending on where they are working, with unserviceable equipment replaced immediately. Though wearing PPE limits communication and can be uncomfortable and hot, Crowe said they have adapted.
Crowe has participated in more than 10 state activations for a variety of disasters during his near 20 years of service, but he described this mission as unique because of the nature of an invisible and unpredictable “enemy.” He adds that for many of his soldiers, this is also their first encounter working with the homeless.
“I think the majority of our soldiers have not interacted with citizens who are homeless … For the first week of the mission, I heard soldiers’ stories about the raw reality of the conditions the homeless population survive in. However, these same soldiers expressed empathy for the individuals, respect for the civilian organizations serving these citizens, and a willingness to continue serving the community after the mission ends.”
The partnership is also likely the first time civilians from the shelter staff have worked alongside members of the National Guard. Crowe says the soldiers’ professionalism turned “those initial hesitations turned into a positive situation.”
“There is no doubt there have been many challenges during this mission, but we have developed a team to solve these challenges. I am proud of my soldiers. They are representing the Colorado National Guard and the 1-157 Infantry Battalion (Mountain) with distinction.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced last week a new initiative asking the public to make donations to help provide emergency relief and facilitate remote access to health care for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Individuals and organizations are asked to donate non-perishable items to combat food insecurity, cell phones to allow veterans to access telehealth services, and monetary contributions to help pay for security deposits, according to the announcement.
“VA is working tirelessly to address the urgent needs of Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and with the help of the community — even more can be done,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in the release. “These donations can make a critical difference in the department’s ability to protect and serve vulnerable Veterans during this public health emergency. VA is thankful for the donations already received for our nation’s heroes during this unprecedented time.”