Emergency Shelter for Unhoused People During COVID-19 Pandemic

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We are concerned about the lack of resources for people experiencing homelessness during this pandemic, since our unhoused neighbors are more vulnerable due to poorer health overall, as well as a lack of access to sanitation, proper nutrition and housing. This affects not only people experiencing homelessness, but the entire community, as the disease spreads exponentially through every individual who is not quarantined or practicing social distancing. We need to do everything we can to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that hospitals do not exceed their capacity and doctors aren’t faced with deciding who lives and who dies.

We demand that OHS develop transparent protocols to decrease risk for COVID-19 among housing unstable populations, including the following:

o   Immediately stop plans to evict any encampments. Staying in tents can be a form of social distancing. Displacing individuals only increases an individual’s risk for COVID-19 and increases risks for spread of coronavirus in vulnerable populations. 

o   Rapidly identify and offer housing options to people experiencing housing instability. Hotels, vacant, PHA-owned buildings, and dorms can all be used to offer safe shelter to individuals.

o   Halt in-person intake for shelter, especially family shelter. Given the current situation, and need for social distancing, a phone call OR assistance from an advocate should suffice for intake. The in-person intake is long, burdensome, and risky in terms of exposure to COVID-19.

o   Individuals receiving this shelter should be offered medication assisted treatment (MAT) and be given naloxone. If MAT is not offered, unhoused individuals will not be able to utilize the housing and practice social distancing/quarantining as needed. 

o   Place precautions in shelters so individuals are able to have safe distance.

o   Set up hand washing stations in areas that have a high density of housing unstable individuals and create a sustainable plan for maintenance of said stations.

o   Increase access to shower, laundry, and food services to housing- unstable individuals. 

o   Supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to organizations that serve housing unstable individuals.

o   Utilize Homeless Outreach workers to discuss COVID-19 with people who are housing unstable, link to resources, and offer services to limit spread among housing unstable populations.

o   Provide mailing addresses throughout the city where people without stable housing can receive emergency assistance checks from the federal government. Shelters should not be the sole providers of these addresses since crowding is a public health concern.

o   Provide transportation to emergency housing on demand.

When the pandemic is resolved, journalists, historians, medical professionals and voters will conduct a post-mortem on how this pandemic was handled and how many deaths likely resulted from each policy decision. We urge you to take swift and comprehensive action to prevent hundreds or even thousands of unnecessary deaths. Thank you.