In addition to helping the homeless during the coronavirus outbreak, Open Doors helps the homeless find temporary shelter during the winter months.

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, JMU has partnered with Open Doors to house around 40 homeless people in Godwin Hall overnight from the Harrisonburg and Rockingham area.

Graham Witt, the board president of Open Doors in Harrisonburg, said he was impressed with how rapidly the process moved to establish that Godwin Hall would be the best place to use as the shelter for Open Doors. Mike Davis, the executive advisor to JMU President Alger, said JMU considered many different locations, such as Festival Conference and Student Center, to use for this, but Godwin provided everything the guests would need.

“Godwin worked because there are locker rooms in there and, luckily, the Hart School of Hospitality Management is there, and they had a demonstration kitchen that the volunteers were able to use to cook or heat up meals for the clients,” Davis said.

Witt said JMU opened up both gyms in Godwin Hall, one side is where the guests sleep and the other side is where the guests dine. He said Open Doors tries to maintain all safety precautions related to the coronavirus in Godwin to make sure all the guests remain healthy.

“The sleeping area and beds are in six by six grids, and the standing in line to get their meals has places where folks can stand to stay six feet apart,” Witt said.

Witt said that Open Doors has 10-11 individuals who aren’t high risk to volunteer in Godwin Hall. The Suitcase Clinic, a homeless healthcare initiative in Harrisonburg, is also providing volunteers to screen every guest that comes into Godwin Hall and is tracking these individuals every day to monitor if any symptoms have changed, Witt said. He also said they have quarantine rooms available in Godwin Hall if someone with the coronavirus were to come in.

Mike Parks, director of communications for Harrisonburg, also said Open Doors has their own internal protocols in the shelter if a case develops. 

The guests are filled in each evening during announcements on where they will be picked up from and dropped off at, which is currently the Roses bus hub, Witt said. Any new person seeking help with their homeless situation can find that information on Open Doors’ Facebook page or by calling its office, Witt said.

“They are doing a really good job of wiping everything down, maintaining social distancing, and they have moved the beds further apart than they normally are,” Davis said. 

There are some clients who may need more safety precautions due to personal reasons, so JMU and Open Doors are working to see what they can do in order to keep them safe, Davis said.

“There are some people who do go to Open Doors who have an underlying health condition or are elderly, so we are looking at some spaces so those people can have private accommodations and places they could stay for 24 hours, too,” Davis said.

Witt said he’s thankful that JMU helped Open Doors set up Godwin Hall quickly and swiftly as an emergency homeless shelter.

“What JMU has done during this emergency effort to step up and be a huge player in impacting a part of our population that gets overlooked, our homeless population, I just couldn’t be more effusive in my compliments on how JMU has worked with us [Open Doors],” Witt said.

Contact Isabela Gladston at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.