As collateral damage caused by the coronavirus goes, not being able to collect a dime on a returnable bottle or can isn’t in most Oregonians’ top 10.

But when the dollars from bottles are a major source of income, as they are for many who are homeless, the closures can be one insult too many, pushing those living hard lives toward despair.

When she heard that grocery stores were temporarily shutting down bottle return stations, Jennifer Lucena, homeless services manager at Catholic Charities, thought about a woman with disabilities, who had been coming to the organization’s Housing Transition Program’s drop-in center on Southeast Powell Boulevard for several years.

“She’s zero income,” said Lucena.

The Housing Transitions Program serves non-parenting women, 25 and older, who are experiencing homelessness. Its drop-in center has been a lifeline for Jane, about 55, offering her a place to shower, wash her clothes, get mail, or simply sit with a cup of coffee and a bagel, away from the roar of traffic on Powell, sheltered from the winter rain or summer heat.

Jane (not her real name) had lived on the streets for seven years.

“It had been hard for her, but I realized that now it was going to get even worse,” said Lucena.

It’s because of women like Jane that the Housing Transitions Program has stayed open as an essential service throughout Oregon’s stay-at-home order.

“We never considered closing,” said Rose Bak, Catholic Charities’ chief program officer.

At an all-employee meeting where staff on the front lines could share their thoughts, Lucena heard her coworkers talk about their work, the sense of mission they felt.

“That doesn’t mean they weren’t scared, for themselves and the family they’re going home to,” she said.

The program did modify their processes, with everyone taking turns on the front lines — and giving everyone a break from that work.

Lucena said team members are hearing anecdotally that thoughts of suicide are rising among the poor and homeless. “People outside are hurting.”

Similar services have closed or reduced hours. Most no longer provide showers, unable to keep stalls virus-free. At Catholic Charities’ drop-in center, workers compulsively disinfect and leave more time between showers.

They also limit the number of clients at any given time. Before the pandemic began, they saw 20 to 30 people a day. Now it’s often fewer than 10.

But they’re still open, still doing street outreach, something that made all the difference for Jane.

The Homeless Transitions team, working with Central City Concern (another agency serving the homeless), had been trying to get Jane into the Social Security system for years. Social Security checks, at the least, would mean she would no longer be dependent on redeemable cans and bottles. The steady, albeit meager, income might even get her into housing.

But the exhaustive application, filled with personal questions, hard deadlines, and demands for medical exams and psychiatric assessments, makes it out of reach for many who would qualify.

Even with two agencies helping her, Jane had never gotten through the process. But this spring, after the bottle-return sites closed, she was nearly there, just needing to sign the last of the papers to make the deadline.

She didn’t show up for her appointment.

Lucena asked the case worker from Central City Concern if they could walk to Jane’s tent. Lucena had a good idea of where it was.

Jane completed the application, her support team cheering her on.

“It took years of building trust,” said Lucena. “We couldn’t let COVID take that away.”