EDGEWATER — The Broadway Armory has become an emergency homeless shelter as city officials try to alleviate crowding at existing facilities and protect people who are homeless from coronavirus.
The armory, 5917 N. Broadway, is housing about 50 men and women in gender-separate areas of the sprawling facility. It is one of five emergency housing shelters the city established in its massive effort to help people who are homeless during the pandemic.
Capacity at city-funded shelters stood at 99 percent by late March, according to the city. At the same time, shelters were trying to reduce their capacity to help ensure residents had space for social distancing.
In response, the city partnered with groups — including the YMCA and the Salvation Army — to establish emergency shelters throughout the city. The five emergency facilities provide 700 beds, increasing the city’s shelter capacity by 400 beds and enabling social distancing at established facilities, said Quenjana Olayeni, director of public affairs at the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.
The locations of the other emergency shelters are not being made public in an effort to protect their residents, Olayeni said. The practice is common among domestic violence shelters and other services aimed at vulnerable populations.
The Broadway Armory shelter is managed by the Department of Family and Support Services with help from Catholic Charities. The Armory, normally operated by the Chicago Park District, is being cleaned regularly and has security, said Ally Brisbin, spokeswoman for Ald. Harry Osterman (48th).
The Armory, which is more than 80 years old, has five gyms and 13 rooms and is normally used for fitness classes — including a trapeze school — as well as sports and events, according to the park district.
It is unclear how long the emergency shelter will be in operation, Brisbin said. Like all other park district field houses and buildings, the Armory has been closed to the public since the early days of the pandemic.
“This is a positive use of a valued community asset, helping some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” she said.
COVID-19 poses a particular threat to people experiencing homelessness because it is easily spread among people in close contact and is especially dangerous to people with underlying medical conditions. Those in shelters are at “especially high risk,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in April.
“We won’t be able to prevent every case, but I’m really proud of the work our city has done together to protect people who are experiencing homelessness,” Arwady said. “Health requires a home. And the holes that our social safety net have had have real impact on health outcomes.”
Establishing emergency shelters is just one of the ways the city is seeking to help people who are homeless during the pandemic.
The city also is offering hotel rooms to people who are homeless. Nurses are visiting shelters for COVID-19 screenings and education efforts, and the city’s homeless outreach program has distributed hygiene kits and set up hand-washing stations at some of Chicago’s larger homeless encampments.
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