Mayor Rhodes-Conway's Statement Regarding COVID-19 and Protecting the Homeless
The City and County are collaborating to protect residents that are without housing, most of whom are served through the shelter system. As of 3/25 we have placed about 225 people into local hotels, removing them from the shelter system and reducing their exposure to risk of transmission to the coronavirus. They include 37 families (140 people); the rest single people.
Efforts to secure safer settings have prioritized families with children, singles who are more vulnerable to the disease, and people who are symptomatic. Staff have identified approximately 60 more people for hotel placement and we are working on finding accommodations for them.
We have also made good progress but need to do still more to ensure that persons relocated to hotel venues have the necessary support services they need – everything from food to laundry to light case management/emotional support.
On another front, we are taking steps to expand shelter capacity at additional locations to provide room for greater physical separation and safer environments for shelter users.
The Warner Park Community Center is prepared to provide much needed space for overnight shelter for homeless men. The facility will reduce the risk of transmission by providing sufficient space to achieve social distancing-something not possible due to limited space within existing shelter facilities. The downtown shelters currently run by Porchlight at Grace Episcopal, St. John’s Lutheran and First United Methodist Churches will be closed and staff assigned to them will support the Warner Park operation, which will have increased capacity.
We are working on arrangements to ensure that shelter guests will have transportation services to and from the facility upon its daily opening and closing hours.
Street outreach staff are also working to assist persons unable or unwilling to use the shelter system. Those meeting the at- higher-risk criteria described above are being moved into hotels. We are also placing hand washing stations at 6 locations around town near the Salvation Army, the Beacon, Safe Haven, Peace Park, Central Library and the Top of State Street.
Currently, the biggest challenge is finding staffing resources sufficient to meet the wide range of needs at the hotels and the new shelter sites. We will face continuing challenges to provide adequate transportation, find and furnish shelter venues, and locate and maintain sufficient staffing resources. And as this situation progresses, we face the prospect of more people becoming housing insecure, and the need for assistance rising further. Therefore, we are beginning to think beyond our immediate needs and preparing for even greater challenges that could lie ahead in the medium and long term.