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The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition will open a warming shelter at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen this winter, using personal protective equipment and physical barriers to minimize the risk of COVID-19.

According to a news release on Thursday, the shelter will open on nights when temperatures are expected to sustain at 35 degrees or below, as the organization has done for years, averaging some 90 people per night.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga wants to use federal COVID-19 funds to build emergency homeless shelter)

However, as the county faces increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections, the coalition worked with the Hamilton County Health Department to develop a plan including temperature checks, hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment and barrier walls to curtail spread at the shelter.

"Our main goal is to get through this winter without a significant COVID or flu outbreak in the homeless population," Executive Director Wendy Winters said in the release.

Anyone in need of shelter can text "winter shelter" to 97779 to subscribe to updates on when the warming shelter will open. No one in need of shelter will be turned away, and some high-risk individuals will be given non-group housing to reduce their risk.

"Of course, the best way to prevent spreading the virus is to house people," she added. "We hope to strategically use COVID response dollars to end homelessness for at least a few subpopulations."

In the meantime, Winters said the group is seeking "compassionate property owners willing to rent to low-income, homeless individuals," keeping in mind the incentives and client support available through the coalition.

If an organization is interested in serving as an overflow site, or landlords are interested in partnering with the coalition, they should make contact through homelesscoalition.org. The Chattanooga Community Kitchen is also accepting donations ahead of the shelter's opening. Coats, hand warmers, socks, underwear, gloves and hats can be dropped off Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 727 E. 11th St.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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