May 6, 2020

Princeton Seminary Provides Rooms For Those Who Need Places to Isolate

By Anne Levin

During a report to Princeton Council at its April 27 meeting, Municipal Health Officer Jeff Grosser stressed the need for isolation once someone has been exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19). This need is particularly acute in parts of town where people live close together and have no place to separate themselves from fellow neighbors or family members, he said.

To address the situation, Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) has made hotel-like rooms in the Erdman Center on Library Place available. This arrangement was facilitated by retired Princeton Police officer Jorge Narvaez, who now works in public safety for PTS; Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter; the town’s Human Services Department; and Sustainable Princeton.

So far, only two rooms are occupied. But a greater need is anticipated.

“The use of the Seminary housing is extremely important as many families are unable to isolate at home for numerous reasons,” said Melissa Urias, Princeton’s Human Services director. “As COVID-19 testing increases and becomes more readily available, the need to house residents at the Seminary is essential for flattening the curve.”

“We had anticipated that this might be a need,” said Councilwoman Leticia Fraga, who serves as liaison to the town’s Board of Health, Human Services, and Public Safety departments, among others. “We have many families living in close quarters, some even with unrelated people living together. So if someone is exposed, how are they going to self-isolate? Most of us are lucky enough to have an extra room to do that, and family members to take care of us. But others are not.”

Two weekends ago, Fraga was made aware of a family that needed to find a place to isolate in a hurry. They also needed linens, towels, and toiletries. Since the Erdman Center had already been used by first responders who had been exposed to the virus and didn’t want to take it home to their families, it seemed a logical place.

Once it comes to the attention of Fraga or other community liaisons, the process is put into place. “People can reach out to Human Services or the Health Department, and Sustainable Princeton is helping coordinate the logistics of getting someone housed,” Fraga said. “We’re putting the word out in multiple languages on social media. But because not everybody uses social media or reads newsletters, we have a safety net in place to make sure no one falls through the cracks. People should know there are resources available, and we are here to help everyone.”

Once the initial cases were identified, housing was secured and emergency kits were put together. Fraga said while she gets calls for assistance nearly every day, she also hears daily from people who want to help. New sheets, warm blankets, pillows, toiletries, and towels are needed. Board games are also requested, since only some of the rooms have televisions and PTS does not want people congregating in public rooms on the first floor. A box outside of Monument Hall will collect donations, which Sustainable Princeton will distribute.

For residents needing to quarantine either at home or at the Seminary, Human Services is connecting them with organizations that can provide them with home delivery of food.

“These include Share My Meals, the Princeton Mobile Food Pantry, Arm in Arm, and Jewish Family and Children Services,” said Urias. “We have also been able to provide residents with essential goods they need while quarantined for at least two weeks, and can assist them with payment of essential bills through the Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund.”