By Colleen Rowan

KEARNEYSVILLE—In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, homeless individuals in Jefferson County have found shelter at the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s Priest Field Pastoral Center in Kearneysville.

The diocese is providing this shelter through the action plan for Jefferson County, Community Cares Center (CCC), to support at-risk populations during the COVID-19 crisis. The objective, organizers said, is to provide homeless individuals of the area with shelter, food, healthcare, and distancing safeguards. The diocese has answered that call by providing the Community Cares Center with sheltering facilities at the pastoral center for homeless individuals.

“Our location, Priest Field, is pretty well designed for this,” said Susan B. Kersey, director of the pastoral center, which opened its doors to those in need of shelter through the CCC March 26. The pastoral center is currently housing between four and six homeless individuals at the bunkhouse, and has the capability of sheltering a total of 15 people in need.

Kersey, who has worked at the pastoral center for 13 years and served as director for the past four years, reflected on the opportunity to shelter people in need during this crisis. She pointed to the many “healing” programs that the pastoral center hosts, from Alcoholics Anonymous counseling for both men’s and women’s groups, to spiritual retreats, to the history of the pastoral center and its Catholic presence in the community.

“What happens here,” she said, “the healing, the presence of the Lord’s power here is amazing. … It’s palpable what happens here, what this holy ground means. And this was just another extension of that—for the homeless to feel the love of the Lord, and that there’s something good out there.”

Local shelters have closed in Jefferson County, Kersey said, so this initiative could not have come at a better time.

The CCC is overseen by site supervisor at the pastoral center, and there are very strict rules for those receiving shelter, Kersey said. According to the CCC, each guest must agree to rules for occupancy. This includes health screening. Each guest must comply with standardized pre-admission screening established by the CCC medical team, which are akin to what is being used to screen entrants to public healthcare facilities. If a guest leaves the CCC without permission, he or she cannot return. At the back gate of the pastoral center, which is locked at all times, there is a cell phone to contact the the CCC site supervisor.

Through the initiative, the pastoral center’s chef prepares dinner each night for people staying at the bunkhouse. To adhere to social distancing, Kersey then delivers the meals to a picnic table near the bunkhouse for pick-up. Other daily meals are being provided through the Jefferson County Community Ministries Food Pantry.

In addition to sheltering at the bunkhouse, the pastoral center also has a cabin ready in case a family would need shelter through the CCC in the future.

For Kersey, the outreach the pastoral center is providing through the CCC during the pandemic is vital. “You’re dealing with people that don’t have a home,” she said. “So it was a pleasure, really, to be able to do this.”

Referrals for shelter are processed through the CCC, which is part of Jefferson County Community Ministries. Funding for the initiative is being provided through a number of state and local agencies, including the West Virginia Governor’s Contingency Fund and the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Fund, among others.