Some Shelters Shutter to Protect Homeless, Staff

The dangers to homeless people infected with COVID-19 are significant.

The dangers to homeless people infected with COVID-19 are significant. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Homeless shelters are running out of money, supplies and staff.

This story originally appeared on Stateline.

For years, the Harbor House shelter had a routine for feeding and sheltering the hundreds of homeless people in Thousand Oaks, California, many of them elderly. Each evening, one of a dozen local churches, temples and mosques would host a dinner, and afterward, lay out beds for their guests to have a safe place to sleep.

COVID-19 has turned that routine upside down.

The host places of worship were worried about safety, especially since many of their volunteers also are elderly. All the houses of worship shuttered entirely, and with that, the dinner and bed routine was over. It wasn’t safe for either the volunteers or the guests, said Denise Cortes, Harbor House’s executive director.

“It’s a scary and devastating experience,” Cortes said. “We’re already dealing with people living on the fringes of life. And now they’re hanging by a thread.”

Like Harbor House, other homeless shelters around the country are being pushed to the brink by the pandemic. Even in the best of times, some 568,000 people live in shelters, on the streets or in a car. And now, shelters in at least 17 states plus Washington, D.C., have been forced to close, suspend services or otherwise limit their operations, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

"We’re all supposed to be staying at home. But this virus didn’t end homelessness. There are still people that need our help."

Doug Morris, executive director FAMILY PROMISE OF LUBBOCK, TEXAS

Yet the dangers to homeless people infected with COVID-19 are significant: They are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times more likely to require critical care and two to three times as likely to die from the virus than the general population, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California Los Angeles and Boston University.

The researchers estimate that 40% of the homeless population will eventually become infected — and the cost for their care will total $11.5 billion this year.

Homeless service providers say they’re quickly running out of space, staff, volunteers, cleaning supplies — and money.

“Shelters are closing because they don’t have the resources to keep the doors open or to safely operate in a way that keeps residents and staff safe,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

At the same time, some cities are opening new shelters. San Diego last week opened an ad hoc shelter for up to 1,500 people in its convention center, using the cavernous space so the city’s homeless population can practice social distancing and have greater access to services.

Last week, Las Vegas began construction on a temporary isolation and quarantine facility, which is expected to house more than 300 homeless people who are either positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms associated with the virus.

And homeless people from the greater Cincinnati area, on the Ohio border, are hunkered down in the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, where they can get medical care and room and board.

Philadelphia is taking over a downtown hotel to quarantine homeless people who’ve been infected by the virus.

And two weeks ago, the Central Arizona Shelter Services, the state’s largest adult homeless shelter, began isolating homeless seniors and those with disabilities in special shelters to protect them from exposure to the virus, said CEO Lisa Glow. Some of the dorm rooms fit as many as 150 people.

“We were flipping mattresses so people could sleep head to toe,” Glow said. “It wasn’t sufficient.”

In Sacramento, California, the Union Gospel Mission closed its men’s emergency shelter and dining room March 21 and stopped accepting new clients for its men’s rehabilitation program to follow social distancing guidelines.

“Obviously, it didn’t feel good,” said Pastor Tim Lane, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission. “But it was a decision I had to make. I had to keep them safe.”

The shelter is still housing 30 men who are enrolled in the rehab program, according to Lane.

Grab-and-go meals are still available, and men can come in for staggered showers. Most of the men the mission has turned away camp along the river, so Lane and his staff make sure they have extra blankets, sleeping bags and tarps.

“I’m just grateful this didn’t happen in December,” Lane said.

In the Denver suburbs, the Severe Weather Shelter Network, which houses homeless people during the region’s massive snowstorms, had to close in March because of a drop in volunteers — right before a storm.

In Rochester, New York, the Bethany House closed its food pantry and women’s shelter temporarily because it didn’t have enough staff.

Some shelters, such as the Good Shepherd Shelter for domestic abuse survivors in Los Angeles, have stopped taking in new clients. Good Shepherd decided last month to limit its clientele to families who came to them before the outbreak, said Monica Martinez, a director at the shelter.

“We want to make sure we control the exposure to the virus,” Martinez said.

In Thousand Oaks, Cortes used donations to put up about 40 of her Harbor House clients in local motels.

Meanwhile, her younger clients are sleeping in campsites and some of her senior clients prefer to camp in their cars. They're too afraid to go to a motel, she said. She’s hoping to get the others housed quickly, now that Ventura County officials have leased a motel. At the motels, homeless clients will all be tested for the coronavirus and cared for, she said.

“It was very hard for them,” Cortes said. “We tried to explain how worried we were for them. I told them we were working on getting more donations.”

Other homeless service providers are finding ways to “decompress” shelters, that is, reducing the number of beds in a room. But many don’t have the space or resources to do that. Suburban and rural shelters, which are typically run by local churches, will be hit hard, advocates say.

In Texas, the Family Promise of Lubbock operates two homeless shelters, one for families and one for expectant mothers. They rely on a network of local churches to keep things running. But since the pandemic broke out and local churches closed, donations have dropped by half, according to Executive Director Doug Morris.

“Now, we’re just asking the church volunteers to provide gift cards,” Morris said. “Some are dropping meals off at the doorstep for contactless delivery.” 

Morris said he’s stopped accepting new families in small shelters and instead moves new families into apartments and pays their rent.

“We’re all supposed to be staying at home,” Morris said. “But this virus didn’t end homelessness. There are still people that need our help.”

Advocates are hoping that the federal emergency spending package will provide some immediate relief. The $2 trillion emergency spending bill, the largest in history, includes $4 billion for homeless assistance, which can be used for temporary emergency shelters, staffing, training and hazard pay.

The money also can go toward eviction prevention assistance, including rapid rehousing, housing counseling and rental deposit assistance.

The legislation stipulates that the money may not be used “to require people experiencing homelessness to receive treatment or perform any other prerequisite activities as a condition for receiving shelter, housing, or other services.”

But many advocates fear the relief package won’t be enough and expect the ranks of the homeless to swell.

Shelter providers urgently need more money to hire staff to fill in for sick workers and to cover for the senior volunteers who cannot work, Yentel said.

They also need money to buy masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. And they need money to acquire temporary, bigger spaces for shelters.

Some shelters are using federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for hotel rooms. Some are relying on private donations.

“I’m really worried about what will happen when the money dries up,” said Eric Samuels, president and CEO of the Texas Homeless Network, a membership-based nonprofit that works with local communities to prevent and end homelessness.

Teresa Wiltz is a staff writer for Stateline.

NEXT STORY: 'It Can Happen to Anybody': When Coronavirus Spreads at a Local Health Department

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.