How Mariners Inn is navigating the pandemic to keep its vulnerable men safeThe Nonprofit Journal Project

Mariners Inn started in downtown Detroit in the Mariners’ Church on Jefferson, almost 100 years ago. That church once served as a place for sailors to come and rest before they went back out. And then over time, it ended up being a place for men who were alcoholics, and then it became a drug rehab center. Eventually, Mariners Inn became a nonprofit and we're still supported by the Episcopal Diocese as they continue to support our mission.


We’re located right behind Little Caesars arena. Our biggest issue in recent times has been gentrification. Cass Park has been there forever, but it's always been a place where drug addicts and homeless people went. Cass Park was given to the city, and it can never be privately owned. So it has to remain an open park to the public. So, I think that kind of threw a monkey wrench in the overall plans for what that neighborhood was going to look like.


We were there through the construction of Little Caesars Arena and we plan to be here forever. We're not going anywhere.


At the end of the day, people still need assistance, and people who are in recovery know where we are. We have alumni of well over 1500 people that are involved on a regular basis. We have 150 people that live on-site, and we provide services to well over 300 people a month. We're off the bus line, we're close to jobs, so there was a reason for us to stay there. And we felt that Little Caesars Arena presented an opportunity for our men to be able to work.


We recently received Michigan tax credits to build affordable housing right on Cass and we were literally in the middle of a capital campaign when COVID hit the Detroit area.


At first, because of the limited information we had, I didn't think it was that big a deal. Because we deal with the public, and we don't know what people in the public are doing, we started thinking about what we needed to do in order to keep the men here safe.


So, we made a decision to stop visitation, and by March 19th we had pretty much hunkered down. The men weren't allowed to leave, except for doctor's appointments, and court dates (at the time courts were still meeting, they weren't doing virtual yet.) A staff member had to drive them, we weren't allowing them to take the bus anywhere.


My biggest nightmare was a staff member getting sick and bringing it there and getting everybody sick. Our men are in the age group, and many had pre-existing health conditions, many of them would have been extremely sick or possibly died if they would have gotten the virus.


We made the decision that only essential staff will work -- so our shift monitors, kitchen staff and maintenance staff were all considered essential. Everybody else was told to work from home. We also made the decision to get everyone tested whether they had symptoms or not.


We started remote group therapy, and we started doing telephone therapy because they still need to have their therapy. We would not let go of this part, because we knew the anxiety, the fear, the depression--that may make people use.


We changed the meal times so that there were not more than 25 people in the lunchroom at one time so we could practice social distancing. There were three different times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many of our kitchen staff are older, so they were afraid if they had interaction with the clients they might get sick so we made adjustments in how meals were served: shut down the serving area, all the food was placed in carryout containers and handed out to the clients.


We also started an additional cleaning protocol with a team cleaning high touch areas and bathrooms every 3 hours. We also had their sleeping area professionally sanitized and cleaned. Obtaining PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) was virtually impossible after March 20th. Were it not for donations of hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves, we would have had nothing--everything was on backorder.


Out of 121 clients, 18 tested positive with no symptoms. Those 18 men were immediately quarantined for two weeks in a facility set up by the City of Detroit. Eventually, we would bring them back for treatment. So we set up a quarantine area on the third floor of the housing building next door. They didn’t have to leave the floor, they could use their own bathrooms, we could deliver their meals and medication, they would have a separate smoke time and use a separate set of stairs.


In recent weeks, we’ve opened up visitation on an outside-only basis. We ask clients to have their family members get tested. And some of the facilitators asked if they could come in and socially distance and do groups, so we've allowed that.


We started doing intake again as well. Now when a client comes in, they're not allowed into the general area. They're immediately taken to get their test done and they're automatically sent to quarantine until their test results are back. Once their test results come back, if they're negative they can go into the general population. If they're positive, we quarantine them on the third floor of the building next door and we get them retested before the two weeks are over. We’ve been able to keep our numbers down this way.


We continue to be challenged to keep staff working and safe. About 40% of our staff are in recovery, and those are the ones that really want to come to work because many times they need that interaction to stay focused on their recovery. COVID-19 has made many people fearful, anxious, and confused so it is important for us to maintain a safe and clean environment for staff.

Carina Jackson is the chief operations officer for Mariners Inn, a Detroit shelter and treatment center for men. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.
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