In normal times, staff at My Sister’s Place Women’s Center think constantly about what women and children experiencing homelessness need to get by. But as COVID-19 spread, limiting what services the center could provide, those considerations took on new urgency.

“The women who were left after the shelter-in-place orders were the women without shelter … ladies who aren’t sleeping anywhere – on bus stops, or in streets,” said Karen Eaddy, director of the center.

Where would these vulnerable clients be able to access basic services, such as mail and laundry

Generally, My Sister’s Place accepts and holds mail for about 250 women who have no other address where they can receive benefits checks, bills, or letters – including those alerting them when they’ve reached the top of the waiting list for available housing. Mail service is an essential – if often overlooked – key to self-sufficiency.

The center also provides laundry service to just over 100 women per month, allowing them to drop off clothes in the early morning, and pick them up later in the day. It’s an offering that buoys clients’ health, since germs that cause illness can take root and spread on dirty clothes. And, as importantly, it provides a sense of normalcy and affirms their humanity, despite challenging circumstances.

Some women have other options for these services – trusted friends or family members might hold their mail, and many shelters offer laundry options – but many do not.

On March 19, the center made the difficult decision to close its day room, and distribute meals in to-go containers. Even as they were scaling back services, however, staff were thoughtful about “things we could continue to do that would be of support to our women, even though the center was closed,” Eaddy said.

It has been unusually quiet at My Sister’s Place, without the constant buzz of the day room. A few clients still stand outside the center. Staff members know the usual haunts of others – in the prayer garden connected to the Basilica, or at the bus stop by the library – and check in on them, bringing them lunch, when possible.

Eaddy also described a natural sense of community forged over time.

“Some of our regulars came back who actually are in shelters,” she said. “They were just outside, chatting, and telling the latest news.”