Social distancing in the night
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2020 (1124 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The coffee trickles slowly into the mug.
“It’s quiet tonight,” says Oliver Muswagon, as he waits for it to finish pouring.
“Usually if it’s not quiet, that means something is happening that shouldn’t be.”
Muswagon is working the overnight shift as a security guard at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope.
He stands in the front office surveying two TV screens that show 32 separate camera feeds throughout the building. The light in the stairwell flickers before returning to normal.
There are 143 people sleeping at the Salvation Army — or the Sally Ann, as it’s known to many — tonight.
Private rooms are on the upper floors, and on the bottom floor cots have been placed throughout the common areas to better enforce social-distancing amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. On every floor, signs on the walls read: “Wash Your Hands” and “Cover Your Cough.”
Striding through the hallway with a quick step, Muswagon makes his rounds — the same circuit he walks multiple times a night — making sure no one is causing a disturbance.
In two-metre increments on the floor, green tape has been put down so people know how far apart to stand when lining up for meals.
He takes the elevator to the sixth floor and walks down the hallways — only a few people stick their heads out of the rooms — before taking the stairs down to the next floor and repeating the process.
Later, he’s back in the front office, alongside Dave and Charles, two Salvation Army staffers he’s working with tonight.
Between 1 and 2 a.m., a handful of people turn up at the front entrance, and each time, Muswagon goes out to talk to them.
One man, who appears to be intoxicated, tries to shove a handful of change into Muswagon’s hand in exchange for a place to sleep. A woman is allowed inside, but the others are turned away. Curfew is in effect every night from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
A few people linger outside the front doors, sitting on the sidewalk, pacing around, waiting for morning to arrive.
Throughout the building, people with nowhere to go during the pandemic sleep on cots and beds, curled up under blankets and thin sheets, tossing and turning in the night.
In the front office, a sign on the wall reads: “There are no strangers in this world, just friends we haven’t met.”
— Ryan Thorpe