The struggle of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7
AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The coronavirus is a crisis all its own. The public is instructed to stay indoors to stop the spread. The City of Augusta is trying to find ways to minimize the virus’ exposure which includes trying to help those without a home, stay safe.
The answer for those without a home: an underpass. It’s been a fortress for Sarah Schmitt these past two weeks.
But when the pavement has been your pillow, exhaustion is the only expectation here.
“I’m so tired, I’m tired," Schmitt said. “So what can you do...”
There was already a shortage of help as the Salvation Army is the only major shelter for Augusta’s homeless populations. Now, COVID 19 poses additional struggles for outreach.
At least 468 people are experiencing homelessness in Richmond County. The latest 2020 records reveal more than half those people rely on places like overpasses, bridges or public parks for refuge.
Homelessness was a crisis even before COVID-19, but this current pandemic led the Salvation Army to temporarily stop taking in people.
“We basically said once you’re in the shelter, you’re staying with us. If you chose to leave you can’t come back in," Douglas McClure, Salvation Army Major, said.
That means the 80 people who checked in two weeks ago, are the only people able to get help for the foreseeable future now.
“We really have no way to create isolation rooms inside our shelter...which is why the protocol was put into place," McClure said.
Augusta EMA is focused on new housing possibilities. Among them, searching for hotels to donate space for shelter, testing our current homeless population then transporting the positive cases to an isolation site in Forsyth County, or looking to housing trailers from the state.
With any possibility, these plans can’t come together fast enough—for people under hard times at the overpass.
“Help the people who are out here get some help," Schmitt said. "Give us a place."
Although the city doesn’t know if requests for a mass shelter space will be approved, officials are hoping to at least know in the coming weeks and decide on their next actions.
Despite being isolated, the Salvation Army is still offering to-go dinner meals for the community at the Kroc Center daily. Anyone can pick up an order.
If you would like to donate or help the Salvation Army, visit their