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City Mission Not Slowed During Pandemic

‘Been A Blessing’

Jeff Rotunda of the UCAN City Mission in Jamestown said the number of men seeking beds and assistance is slightly down compared to the last two years. The pandemic has likely played a role in that, the executive director said. P-J photos by Eric Tichy

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed efforts to provide support for men seeking shelter and assistance at the UCAN City Mission in Jamestown.

Jeff Rotunda, UCAN executive director, this week said the number of beds currently being used is less than that seen in the past two years during the same period. The shelter, located on West First Street in Jamestown, has 29 beds available, up from the previous 19 beds that had been available before March.

“With the pandemic, we have not slowed down as far as serving the guys,” Rotunda said. “We have taken the extra measures with cleaning due to COVID-19. When it happened to come, we were already making changes to our cleaning efforts. We have to keep the guys safe.”

The extra bed frames were made available from the Buffalo City Mission. As of this week, Rotunda said three-quarters of the beds are utilized each night.

“We have noticed a little bit of a drop in new intakes compared to the last two years,” he said, noting that is likely due to the coronavirus and changes made to bail reform.

In regards to the bail reform, in which those charged with nonviolent crimes in Chautauqua County are released while awaiting further court proceedings, Rotunda believes more people are able to retain a living. As a result, less are losing jobs and in need of shelter.

“Plus there’s been the moratorium on evictions,” Rotunda said.

As for a potential COVID-19 impact, “It really hasn’t been an issue,” he said. “We’re still following COVID guidelines and checking temperatures, and more than half are employed or are receiving employment assistance.”

The UCAN City Mission routinely works with Infinity Resources in Jamestown with job placement in the community. “They’ve been able to really work with our guys when there’s been some job openings.”

Due to the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials have been calling for localities to open homeless shelters ahead of the winter season.

“A number of local governments closed shelters during COVID. They should open safe shelters,” Cuomo said during a coronavirus task force briefing on Sept. 28. “We know how to open schools, restaurants, flexible art space. … The weather is getting cold. Nobody should be living on the street especially in the middle of a global health pandemic.”

Rotunda said the local shelter has remained opened; the organization, as it does each year, prepares for a Code Blue status, initiated when temperatures or wind chills dip below 32 degrees. During a Code Blue, emergency shelters are arranged to “mitigate the effects of inclement winter weather on individuals experiencing homelessness,” the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services has stated previously. Warming shelters at area libraries are also opened at that time.

“For us and what we provide, it’s been a blessing,” Rotunda said. “In regards to what might happen (with COVID-19) and what might happen globally, we’re still able to serve.”

In other news, the mission is looking into opening a facility to assist women and children. The goal of expanding services has been discussed in the past, and Rotunda said a location in the town of Ellicott is being considered. The organization is currently reviewing zoning for the project, and is expected to be reviewed during a Nov. 19 meeting of the Ellicott Zoning Board.

Even if the project in Ellicott does not come to fruition, Rotunda said UCAN will continue looking at expanding its services.

The UCAN City Mission is always accepting donations, both monetary and tangible items such as cleaning materials and supplies. Items can be dropped off or arranged to be accepted.

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