Work will move forward to establish a temporary homeless shelter near the East Rome Bypass on Kingston Highway to help curb the spread of COVID-19 after the Rome City Commission unanimously passed a memorandum of understanding Monday.

The agreement is between the city, the United Way of Rome and Floyd County, and local shelter groups including the Davies Shelters, Hospitality House and The Salvation Army.

Property owner John Cowan will allow the nonprofits to set up a shelter in his Rome Sports Academy facility, which is the former site of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church. An earlier plan to have a men’s shelter at the Fielder Center in East Rome and one for women and children in a building belonging to Legacy Church was discussed during Monday’s meeting before Cowan stepped in with his proposal.

“We are so deeply grateful to city of Rome for offering the Fielder Center and for Legacy Church. They were extraordinarily generous to us,” said Devon Smyth, executive director of the Davies Shelters. “We are grateful for Dr. Cowan’s generosity that will allow us to consolidate our resources and cut the overall cost of operations.”

Smyth said they hope to open the shelter in the next week. It will be open for 90 days as Georgians are asked to follow Gov. Brian Kemp’s order to shelter in place.

The United Way is acting as the organizing entity for the shelters, which will be staffed 24 hours a day by people vetted by the local shelter agencies. An emergency fundraising effort in recent weeks raised $20,000 to help pay the staff’s salaries.

Smyth said Cowan is letting them use his facility — which includes a gymnasium, several rooms and showers — rent-free, with $400 a month for utilities.

Alli Mitchell, executive director of the United Way, said people’s preconceived notion of what homeless means is a barrier to stepping up and helping those in need during this time of emergency declarations and health scares.

She said the ones who have asked for their help in the last week are mothers with children and veterans, and they intend to help as many as possible with the shelters.

“This isn’t a bunch of wild people coming out of the forest. We’re talking about people who have had homes. People who are coming from different programs and getting their life back together. And they need a place to go,” Mitchell said.

“As a community that prioritizes faith and prioritizes giving, I know our shelter partners deal with this all the time, but we really need to think about where our hearts are and where our perceptions are in what we are seeing. We are talking about neighbors and people who belong to this community just as much as the rest of us, especially during this time and in the coming weeks,” she said.

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