Story by Kelly Fletcher
Amanda Jones-Fernandez recalled telling her daughter she couldn’t go to the grocery store with her like she usually does in early March of 2020. The then-mysterious COVID-19 virus was just beginning to take its hold on the country.
Her daughter Mary Charles has an autoimmune illness, so when Jones-Fernandez bumped into some neighbors at the grocery store she said she felt panicked and unsure if she should talk to them.
She said she was scared she would get infected and inadvertently infect her daughter.
When she got home and talked to her husband about what they should do to protect their family, he was at a loss as well. “For the first time, he didn’t have answers, I didn’t have answers… and so we pulled her out of school the next day.”
Jones-Fernandez works full-time at Room In The Inn, a homeless shelter and recovery center in Nashville. She’s on the community development team and is currently heading the Winter Shelter program which works with various places of worship and civic organizations to provide safe, warm shelter, meals and support for people experiencing houselessness.
She has a heart for her community in her personal life as well. “We went from having regular community meals at our house where anyone could show up… to we’ve only had our parents to our home in the past year,” Jones-Fernandez said.
Much like everyone else, the pandemic has brought some new complications to her job and home life.
Room In The Inn’s capacity was cut in half because of COVID-19, but Jones-Fernandez said the need is still there.
“In December of last year, I left my role because childcare is so expensive and have been working remotely,” Jones-Fernandez said. She has two young children that she cares for at home, and her husband is a Catholic school teacher who has been working in the classroom since August.
“I intended only working part-time, but I’ve been working full-time since March on this project and trying to make sure shelter could happen,” Jones-Fernandez said.
Jones-Fernandez has spent the past few months meeting with congregations over Zoom and trying to get them to host participants in the Winter Shelter program.
“We normally have 200 congregations and this year we have 61 that are registered,” she added.
Although it’s far from the help the homeless shelter usually has, 61 congregations are more than they imagined they would get during the pandemic according to Jones-Fernandez.
It hasn’t been an easy process. She said many of the shelter’s programs imploded and had to be reimagined and rebuilt to meet the needs of the community while also keeping everyone safe in the pandemic.
At some point, the mother of two realized she was putting in over 40 hours of work every week struggling to make the Winter Shelter program happen. It had become more work than anyone in the program imagined.
Finally, she had a conversation with her boss, “The bigger conversation was, are we going to be able to have a program?” Jones-Fernandez said.
“Full confession here, I was angry at some of the things that were happening, like people assuming that the homeless had COVID-19 more than anyone else… but then I was also listening with another ear… People were just scared, but they were still trying to serve.”
Even with her own worries and struggles at home, Jones-Fernandez managed to keep the Winter Shelter program alive during this global pandemic with the help of her team and community.
Jones-Fernandez said she feels COVID-19 has acted as a great equalizer. With her 1-year-old in her lap she said, for the first time, a lot of people are experiencing some of the things people who are homeless live with every day.
She noted that participants at Room in The Inn are often left without anyone to take care of them or be there when they are in need. COVID-19 has forced that same feeling of isolation on many other people.
“So, people are experiencing for the first time a lot of what it means to be in their [people who are homeless] shoes. You know, when you’re walking down the street now, people will step to the other side, and that happens to our guys all the time.”
To contact Lifestyles Editor Ashley Barrientos, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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