- The Macy’s store at the Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia — and the mall itself — closed in January 2017.
- A year later, a homeless shelter in search of a temporary home constructed a temporary shelter within the old Macy’s store. The Carpenter’s Shelter moved into the old Macy’s store in June.
- To hear the full story, listen to Business Insider’s podcast, “Household Name.”
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — What happens when a homeless shelter becomes homeless?
If you’re the Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria, Virginia, you move into an old Macy’s store in the closed Landmark Mall.
Both the Macy’s and the mall in which it operated closed in January 2017. According to an executive at the Howard Hughes Corporation, the real estate company that owns the mall, the closing was a long time coming.
“When you show up on DeadMalls.com probably a decade before you close, it really is kind of the marketplace telling you you should get a different use there,” said Mark Bulmash, senior vice president for development at Howard Hughes.
At the same time, the Carpenter’s Shelter had a problem: it had been located in an old Department of Motor Vehicles office for about 20 years, but it was getting old, and they needed to do a lot of renovations. The shelter staff decided to tear down the building and rebuild a totally new shelter in its place. In the meantime, they moved into the former Macy’s store in the defunct Landmark Mall.
There are very few signs that Macy’s used to exist in the space.
“There are people who still come in and think this is a Macy’s,” said the Carpenter’s Shelter’s director of programming, Blair Copeland, in a recent interview with Business Insider’s new podcast, “Household Name.”
“Occasionally, there’ll be somebody that says, ‘I want to return something,’ and I’m like, ‘How could you?’ Stop. First of all, the mall has been closed for like 2 years. And secondly, it doesn’t look like Macy’s anymore.”
From the outside, a sign for the Carpenter’s Shelter covers smudged letters showing where the Macy’s sign used to be displayed. Inside, the only real display of the old Macy’s is the carpet and tile that line the floors.
See inside the shelter in the photos below:
The old Macy’s sign has been scrubbed away and partially covered with a new sign announcing the presence of the Carpenter’s Shelter.
The Carpenter’s Shelter’s executive director, Shannon Steene, said his team considered several possible temporary locations for the shelter, including an old warehouse, a church, and an old school.
“And then someone said, ‘You know, the ideal place would be the Landmark Mall,'” Steene said. “And then there was sort of a pause in the conversation and many people chuckled. But the seed had been planted.”
Howard Hughes has long-term plans to renovate the Landmark Mall into a mixed-use project that would include retail, restaurants, offices, and residences. But those plans were still a few years away, and Bulmash said he was intrigued by the idea.
“It’s an out-of-the-box idea, right?” Bulmash said. “I needed to convince our organization that we could do it, right? That we had the time between doing the planning and getting the entitlements that we could put them in and not delay our starting construction on our project.”
Howard Hughes and the city of Alexandria signed off on an 18-month lease, and the Carpenter’s Shelter began construction last spring. The shelter moved into the old Macy’s in June.
Steene started working at the shelter in 2015, shortly before conversations about renovating the shelter began.
After making a deal with Howard Hughes to move into the old Macy’s store at the Landmark Mall, Steene had to go to a public meeting with the city of Alexandria to make sure they would sign off on it.
He had been concerned that the proposal would draw the ire of the community. After sitting through a long, contentious discussion about a schools issue, it was finally the Carpenter’s Shelter’s turn at 11 p.m.
“And so imagine much to my surprise, that there was only one person who had registered to speak and testify at that hearing,” Steene said. “And so she stood up and she said, ‘This is exactly the project we want to see in our community.'”
Steene was pleasantly surprised.
“It puts a lump in your throat,” Steene said. “When you think about what I had expected and what so many of my peers that run homeless services have encountered when they’ve gone before public hearing, and that’s not the standard reaction from a community.”
A large common area at the entrance to the Carpenter’s Shelter provides space for residents to eat their meals and hang out during the day.
The first thing visitors see upon entering the Carpenter’s Shelter is a large common area. This is where residents gather to eat their meals, use the computer, or hang out during the day. If there is a community meeting with the residents, it will happen in this room.
And though the visitor has just entered an old Macy’s store, there is barely a sign of its historic past.
“It doesn’t look exactly like the inside of a Macy’s other than when you look down at the flooring,” Steene said. “You see that there’s some tile walkways that in some ways head to doors and other places they just head to blanks walls. And so you do get a sense that there has been some sort of former life.”
The room leads to a smaller television/library lounge, a pantry, two sets of offices, the David’s Place day shelter, and a hallway that leads to the bedrooms.
The Carpenter’s Shelter helps more than 600 people every year.
The Carpenter’s Shelter has 60 beds to house residents at any given time.
There are two hallways filled with rooms — one hallway has rooms to house 24 single men, and the other has rooms to house six families and 12 single women.
“I think people in general misunderstand homelessness because the face of it is the guy who’s on the corner who’s obviously street homeless, dirty, maybe suffering from some mental illness that makes him hard to engage with, begging for money, I think that’s what people think about homelessness across the board,” Copeland said.
“I think they miss the working poor, you know the person who is pouring your coffee or making your food or washing your car, could be homeless as well.”
There are 60 beds, including space for about six families, 12 single women, and 24 single men.
People go to the Carpenter’s Shelter for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is that they just do not have enough money.
“One of the things that’s a surprise for many people is when they learn that half of the adults coming into shelter, about half of the adults coming in, are already working,” Steene said. “They are employed. It’s just not enough.”
The city of Alexandria’s affordable housing office says that a person would have to work four full-time jobs at minimum wage in order to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Alexandria.
That’s why the Carpenter’s Shelter has programming to help residents get jobs that can help them get better jobs. They also have a housing locator who helps find affordable housing in Alexandria or neighboring towns and cities.
A smaller common area next to the main room gives residents a quieter place to watch television or read books.
Off of the main common area in the shelter, visitors will find residents hanging out in a small television/library lounge. It is the only room in the Carpenter’s Shelter that has a television, though there is another television in the day shelter next door.
“I think for me the biggest miracle that happens on a regular basis is: how do 60 people decide what one program they’re going to be watching?” Steene said.
The Carpenter’s Shelter also houses David’s Place, which gives those who are homeless and sleeping on the street a place to rest, clean, and get warm during the day.
The day shelter at Carpenter’s Shelter helps those who are sleeping on the streets. Open during the day, people can come into David’s Place to take a shower, do laundry, watch television, and stay warm during the winter months.
About 15 to 20 people go to David’s Place every day.
“I can tell you that Carpenter’s Shelter is hoping they will come into the emergency shelter,” Steene said. “There are more resources for them in our emergency shelter, but there’s also more accountability that’s asked of them.”
Residents at the Carpenter’s Shelter have a curfew and must either have or be looking for a job, among other expectations.
“It’s too much structure and they’re not quite ready for that, yet,” Steene said. “But Carpenter’s is, by its nature, optimistic in continuing to work with them so that they do trust us and they will sometimes come.”
Steene said the Carpenter’s Shelter is able to convince a few guests of David’s Place to move into Carpenter’s Shelter every year. When they are actually able to get placed into permanent housing, “it is the coolest thing,” he said.
The Carpenter’s Shelter serves residents three meals every day.
The temporary Carpenter’s Shelter within the old Macy’s does not have a full kitchen or a kitchen staff.
Instead, the shelter has a warming station, pantry, and the help of volunteers year-round.
Those volunteers help feed residents three meals every day of the year.
“There’s a regular parade of volunteers coming and going,” Steene said. “They’re bringing food in, they’re serving it and cleaning up after themselves, and so that means a lot of extra traffic coming in and out in order to make Carpenter shelter work.”
The pantry also serves as a grocery store of sorts when residents are preparing to leave the shelter.
“When we move people into permanent housing, we actually ask them to come in and do some, quote, shopping, here in the pantry,” Steene said. “We want to make sure that when they move into a new place, the first thing they don’t do is head out to the grocery store and spend money.”
He said the goal is to help residents fill their cupboards so they can get back into permanent housing as easily and stably as possible.
About a quarter of the Carpenter’s Shelter’s residents are children.
One rule that is pretty tightly enforced at the shelter is that children have to stay with their parents.
Steene said most of the children in the shelter are in preschool or elementary school. During Business Insider’s visit to the shelter, there were a few older teenagers. For them, the rules of the shelter can be difficult.
“You know, they feel like they’re 16, they shouldn’t have to follow Mommy everywhere they go,” said one mother in the shelter. “But are they dealing with it? Yeah, they’re dealing with it because they know this is only temporary, it’s not full-time.”
The Carpenter’s Shelter has operated a medical clinic in its facilities for more than 20 years thanks to the help of volunteer medical staff.
Healthcare can be pretty expensive, and people staying in a homeless shelter may not have the resources to pay for what they need.
That’s why the Carpenter’s Shelter has operated a small medical clinic in its facilities for the last 20 years.
“It’s small but mighty,” Steene said. “And we’re happy to be able to provide that service.”
The medical clinic at the Carpenter’s Shelter’s temporary location at the Landmark Mall looks like it could belong in a permanent doctor’s office. There’s an exam table, a medicine cabinet, a defibrillator, a blood pressure cuff, scales, and other medical equipment.
The clinic is entirely run by volunteers.
The Carpenter’s Shelter employs 17 full-time and nine part-time staff. Their offices are in the old Macy’s in the Landmark Mall, right off the main room where residents eat their meals.
The staff includes case managers, facilities coordinators, development associates, and a person who helps locate potential housing options.
When the staff was first told that their offices would be moved to the old Macy’s at the Landmark Mall, Copeland said she thought the idea was odd.
“At Christmastime, Shannon brought me and my staff here to see this space and I was like, I don’t get it. Like I just, I don’t get it,” Copeland said. “We are standing in the old women’s section, I can see the makeup counters, I can see that this was a Macy’s, I can see the doors pulled out, I can see the mall. I see the escalators, I don’t see how this is going to be a shelter.”
“But I came here about a week before we moved and I was like, I get it.”
Now that the staff has settled into their new offices, they don’t think about the site’s history as much. They’re thinking about their core mission: helping their residents.
“My goal is singular, my staff’s goal is singular: move you out of shelter as quickly as possible,” Copeland said.
In addition to the full- and part-time staff, Carpenter’s Shelter operates with the help of about 1,200 volunteers every year. The volunteers help with career counseling, serving meals, and giving medical checkups, among other things.
The Macy’s location won’t be its home forever. The new Carpenter’s Shelter will be built on the site of their previous home at the old DMV.
The Carpenter’s Shelter broke ground on its new building a few weeks ago.
The new building will include a shelter on the ground floor, with many of the same amenities that can be found at the Macy’s location.
The new building will also include 97 affordable housing units above the shelter, a much-needed addition in Alexandria.
Alexandria has lost about 90% of its affordable housing stock since 2000.
“When people ask us, ‘Why are people homeless?’ It’s because they have nowhere to live that they can afford,” Copeland said. And you fix that by creating more affordable housing.”
According to statistics from the city, rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city has gone up more than 90% in the same time period that the affordable housing stock has dramatically decreased.
“There are about 15 full-time staff here,” Copeland says she tells residents. “There’s only two people who can afford to live here in the city of Alexandria. And we get paid, you know, pretty decent salaries.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.