Cities Rush to Respond as Homelessness and Coronavirus Collide

A homeless woman going by the name of Miss Bee seeks donations at an outdoor produce market in Boston, Saturday, March, 14, 2020.

A homeless woman going by the name of Miss Bee seeks donations at an outdoor produce market in Boston, Saturday, March, 14, 2020. Associated Press

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Homeless people are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. Cities are working to implement protective measures, often with no idea how they'll pay for it.

As the coronavirus spread throughout communities in California, officials in San Diego County focused on a daunting task: What could they do to protect populations of homeless people, who live in close quarters, lack access to health care and may find it logistically difficult to frequently wash their hands?

“We had no playbook for dealing with this novel virus,” Nick Macchione, director and deputy chief administrative officer of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, said on a call with officials from the National Association of Counties. “We made one up.”

The county dispatched its public health nurses to canvass the community with law enforcement and homeless response teams, checking people for symptoms and, when appropriate, providing transportation to non-shelter beds for isolation and quarantine. It’s one of scores of ad-hoc solutions taking place across the country as officials race to protect people without homes from both contracting and spreading the virus. The challenge is particularly difficult given the inherent vulnerabilities of people living on the streets or moving from shelter to shelter..

“People who experience homelessness as individuals, not attached to families, are falling into the identified risk pools already,” said Samantha Batko, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute. “They have a larger disability rate than the general population, and higher rates of chronic health conditions. Obviously, people living outside have a lack of access to personal hygiene. The population is absolutely at risk for a variety of reasons, including the very nature of their living situations.”

There is no one set of best practices that local officials  are working from, though most have attempted to find ways to help people obey federal health recommendations that encourage frequent handwashing and “social distancing”—or keeping a minimum of 6 feet away from other people. In San Francisco, city officials are using 30 recreational vehicles as temporary “isolation housing” for people who can’t self-isolate because they’re homeless or living in close quarters with others. In Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, officials leased a 123-room hotel for the same purpose. King County, Washington officials have worked to “decongest” large shelters by spreading people throughout existing spaces and shuttling more vulnerable clients—elderly people, those with pre-existing conditions—to recently purchased motel rooms for protection. 

“We have also, in collaboration with Seattle and other jurisdictions, looked at finding additional space—not to result in additional shelter, but to allow for that social distancing that is so necessary,” Kate Speltz, a planner with the county’s Housing, Homelessness and Community Development Division, said on a media call this week. 

Maintaining distances that are safe and help prevent spread of the respiratory illness comes with real challenges in shelters, said Rachel Heller, CEO of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association in Boston. “As quarantine needs arise, we are working with our local and state-level partners to determine, where can people go so they can get better and also not spread infection?”

Homeless agencies are  also ramping up cleaning measures. King County authorized additional funding for shelters to pay for extra janitorial work, Speltz said, which has been offered to all homeless shelters, not just the ones that currently contract with the county. The Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter in Boston, has contracted with an outside cleaning service “to add another layer of daily deep cleaning in our buildings, with special focus on high-touch areas,” according to a March 17 statement.

All of that work takes place against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has shuttered other services, including day centers and public libraries, that offer respite to homeless people. Like other businesses, organizations providing services for homeless people have struggled with staff shortages, as employees fall ill or seek to protect themselves from the virus, leading some agencies to hire temporary workers while also funding sick leave for their full-time staff. 

All of that comes without specific funding streams, and it’s unclear where money to help expand services may come from, Batko said. Some states are activating a patchwork of emergency funding to provide revenue streams specifically for mitigation measures within the homeless community.  A proposed federal stimulus package could also direct dollars toward preventive measures at the state and local level. But most agencies are doing the work daily without knowing exactly how they’ll fund it on an ongoing basis.

“I think right now people are just doing things even without clear funding streams,” she said. “I don’t know anything firm and I’m not aware of any targeted funding for these projects.”

That’s an urgent problem, advocates said, and one that makes it difficult to form long-term plans to weather the duration of the crisis.

“We are behind where we need to be,” said Alison Eisinger, CEO of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. “We need significant additional capacity and resources, and we need them yesterday.”

OTHER STORIES from Route Fifty:

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: Washington Schools Work on Meal and Child Care Plans For Extended Closure

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.