ADDRESSING COVID-19 IN THE HOMELESS COMMUNITY

The County of Santa Clara, City of San Jose, and Continuum of Care Partners are working together to address the needs of homeless individuals affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak locally.


We know that the spread of COVID-19 could be particularly dangerous for those experiencing homelessness. Individuals without stable housing not only face greater difficulty taking preventative actions, but they are often in poorer health than other residents.  Over the last few years, the County, City and their partners have been working tirelessly to reduce and prevent homelessness. From 2015 through 2019, we helped more than 14,000 homeless persons obtain permanent housing. The epidemic has made an already critical mission even more urgent. 


Listed here is a summary of activities underway to assist homeless individuals and families during this crisis.


Steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless community:

  • All existing shelters are now operating 24/7 and are emphasizing social distancing;

  • Seasonal shelters are planning to remain open through April 15;

  • The County and City are keeping restrooms open 24/7 at several parks;

  • The City’s safe parking programs are operating 24/7 and the overnight warming locations (OWLs) will soon follow.

  • Hygiene facilities with hand sanitizers have been placed at 14 sites in San Jose, four in Mountain View and three in Gilroy at locations with relatively large groups of unsheltered persons; these include handwashing stations, portable toilets, clean water and refuse pickup;

  • The County, City and their partners have provided flyers and guidance in multiple languages as well as hand sanitizers to our homeless prevention advocates, shelters agencies, outreach programs, day centers, supportive housing program sites, and affordable housing sites;

  • Under the County’s Public Health Officer order to shelter in place, businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals are considered essential businesses and continue to operate and support partners;

  • The County is preparing to add temporary shelter capacity at the Fairgrounds and the City is preparing Parkside Hall and South Hall to be used as temporary shelters.

  • The City has taken delivery of 105 trailers provided by the State of California and located in the East Parking Lot of the Kelley Park complex at Story Road and Remillard; these trailers will be refurbished and used to temporarily shelter homeless and unstably housed residents in the coming weeks.


Our goal is to stand up thousands of temporary shelter beds as quickly as possible because a number of public health experts believe this number is needed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the unhoused community.


Outreach to Homeless Individuals:

The County has tapped Valley Homeless Healthcare Program (VHHP) and Gardner Health Services, non-profit partners, with identifying  homelessness individuals and screening people who have three or more of the underlying health conditions identified by the CDC that make them at high risk if they were to contract COVID-19.  We have prioritized sheltering these at-risk individuals.  Additionally, medical providers go out to encampments, shelters and community-based organizations multiple times per week throughout the City and County to share information about COVID-19 and provide medical care.  


The City and County also have a group of volunteers who are already concerned and invested in assisting people who are homeless. We have tasked our volunteer partners with sharing information about COVID-19 along with distributing hand sanitizers and protective equipment to the unsheltered.


Individuals who are not being tested or monitored are encouraged to access existing and new shelters. We are also encouraging individuals who remain outdoors to set up their tents/sleeping quarters 12 ft. by 12 ft. of space per individual.


Expanding housing options for homeless individuals needing quarantine or isolation:

One of the County’s and City’s top priorities since the COVID-19 outbreak has been to identify sites to quarantine individuals who are well but have been identified by medical doctors as being extremely at-risk or vulnerable to the virus. We are also identifying sites to isolate homeless individuals who have tested positive for the virus. This model aims to keep these individuals out of shelters and encampments and lower the risk of exposure to other members of the homeless population to slow the virus’ spread.


Isolation and quarantine units have been prioritized for individuals/households who meet multiple of the following criteria:


  • Persons who have tested positive for COVID-19

  • Those who may be “persons under investigation” for COVID-19

  • Persons who may have been exposed to COVID-19

  • Medical respite center/individuals discharged from hospitals

  • Vulnerable persons

  • Families

As of March 26, the County and City has secured the use of 172 hotel/motel rooms at sites in San Jose, Santa Clara and Gilroy, and is continuing to secure additional temporary housing sites (including hotels, motels,) for isolation and quarantine.  The Valley Homeless Healthcare Program, local hospitals, shelters and others, have referred a total of 147 individuals in need of isolation or quarantine rooms - 68 of whom have already been placed, with additional placements in process.


The local response is evolving rapidly with more sites identified and more rooms becoming available and booked.  Efforts are also being made to staff motel/hotel sites to assist individuals in quarantine/isolation, securing enough medical services and finalizing a system for food, finalizing a security staffing/plan, and securing laundry/linen services at the identified sites




In addition, all vacancies in existing temporary shelter programs have been prioritized for COVID-19 related use.  For example, the City is using available bridge housing units (i.e., “tiny homes”) for emergency housing.


HomeFirst

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