Methods vary, but the goal is the same: do everything you can to prevent the corona virus from causing havoc in the Bay Area homeless camps and shelters.
As more Bay Area residents are diagnosed with coronavirus and the disease spreads, local officials and nonprofits are stepping up efforts to protect homeless people who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. This includes helping people on the street to wash or disinfect their hands and to set up rooms where unaccustomed patients can be quarantined. In a region where thousands of homeless people could not be housed before the outbreak of the corona virus, questions remain in some cases about how these efforts can be funded and where they can be introduced.
In San Francisco, officials announced on Tuesday that the city has rented RVs that they will set up in the Presidio and then use as needed in the city to isolate homeless residents who are sick or exposed to the virus but not to the hospital have to be delivered. City guides are looking for additional quarantine options, including uninhabited residential properties and empty hotel rooms.
“Our top priority is public health and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Mayor London Breed wrote in a press release. “Not everyone in our city has access to housing to go to if they are infected or exposed to the virus. It is important that we take such measures to care for our most vulnerable residents, including the homeless. “
The city has provided $ 5 million to protect homeless or sheltered residents who provide ongoing support to SROs and are at increased risk of developing COVID-19 or dying. City officials also launched new initiatives that include extending homeless shelter opening hours, expanding food delivery programs, and reducing hygiene.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Tuesday the city had temporarily stopped homeless camp efforts and Dave Cortese, head of the Santa Clara district, suggested that a similar move be taken across the district. In Santa Clara County, homelessness increased by 31% between 2017 and 2019.
Stopping searches that force the homeless to pack and move to a new location, and possibly a new camp, “makes a lot of sense,” said Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the UCSF Endangered Population Center at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. When people are unknowingly ill, the worst thing is to uproot them and move them to a new community where the virus could spread, she said.
“Just from a purely public health perspective, we don’t want to reintroduce and remix who people are with,” said Kushel.
Santa Clara County is still working on its broader coronavirus strategy for the homeless, said Ky Le, director of the Office of Supportive Housing. The county is considering making public bathrooms more accessible and expanding access to portable shower trays. But the main concern is to find buildings that can isolate infected, unaccomodated people, Le said. And that is the same funding and space challenge that the region was facing before the virus broke out.
Oakland, where homelessness increased 47% from 2017 to 2019, has paid for additional hand washing stations, portable toilets, and garbage disposal in homeless camps, and Alameda County is distributing hand sanitizers in camps, Mayor Libby Schaaf said on Monday during a media conference in Sacramento.
“We care about all residents. And that actually starts with our most vulnerable residents, ”she said.
St. Vincent de Paul, of Alameda County, which provides meals, accommodation, and other services to homeless people in West Oakland, has made some important changes to protect its customers and employees, according to a memo from the organization. Instead of inviting customers to a typical lunch in the dining room, St. Vincent de Paul distributes burlap outdoors. Instead of hosting the usual big open house at Easter, the organization will give families Easter baskets over a two-week period. And the staff set up isolation areas in the shelter where they can quarantine guests who have symptoms of a possible COVID-19 infection.
Experts fear that the corona virus will not only affect residents of the Bay Area who are already homeless, but could also force other people onto the street. When low-income workers are infected and forced to stay at home, they miss paychecks – and if they already live on the edge, it could be disastrous, said Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home.
“We are very concerned about the financial impact and, frankly, about the ability of people to pay their rent on April 1st,” she said.
In response, Destination: Home launched a $ 1 million fund to cover rentals for residents of Santa Clara who are at risk of eviction. The non-profit organization works with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which has created a separate foundation coronavirus-fund” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>The regional response fund COVID-19 spans all nine districts of the Bay Area.
Kushel applauded local governments and nonprofits for taking steps to protect the region’s homeless. But as soon as the hysteria surrounding the virus subsides, Kushel hopes that people will continue to think of the homeless.
“I definitely hope that when we reach the other side of this crisis, we will all step back and remember the enormous cost of homelessness for individuals and society,” she said. “I hope this underlines the incredible cost of inaction.”