A building on Kingston Highway is being turned into a safe place for people to stay in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a community-wide effort.

Volunteers began cleaning rooms and arranging cots at the Sports Academy of Rome on Thursday afternoon as local nonprofits work together to turn the facility into a temporary homeless shelter.

Organizers said they expect it to open Wednesday and be available for 90 days as Georgians are asked to shelter in place to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

Hospitality House Executive Director Lynn Rousseau was busy labeling items in some of the second floor classrooms as they moved everything to make room for areas to house families and single women.

Single men will stay in the gymnasium, with cots spaced 6 feet apart to adhere to social distancing guidelines. A separate area is being designated for anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms, where they will be monitored by staff.

“It really is kind of perfect,” Rousseau said, looking out at the empty gym floor. “Our staff can still work with the women upstairs and those from the Davies Shelters and the Salvation Army can continue their case management in here.”

The building was offered by the owner, John Cowan, who asked only for the cost of utilities, which came to $400 a month. Rousseau said the city of Rome has stepped up to cover that, as well as liability insurance and security.

“The cost of operating it will be minimal, but we foresee tough times ahead for many people in Floyd County as they lose the places they may have been staying at due to the economy and people losing their jobs,” Rousseau said.

A $20,000 fund has been set up to hire short-term employees to staff the shelter at night and on weekends. Staff from the partner nonprofits will be at the shelter during the day Monday through Friday.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but we have a lot of people in the community who want to help,” Rousseau said.

Floyd County EMA Director Tim Herrington and Radio Systems Analyst Tom Bowen delivered 50 new cots to the shelter on Thursday.

Herrington said the cots were purchased last year and they have access to more if the need arises.

“We are more of a resource agency at this point,” he added. “So, when we have other agencies that are needing supplies, whether it be PPE or masks, or even cots, then we reach out to our state contacts to see what we can do. And fortunately we had these cots for this facility.”

Donations for the shelter can be made through The Community Foundation of Greater Rome at cffgr.org/donate. Make a one-time donation and indicate that it is to be used for the COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Shelter.

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