SAN FRANCISCO (Up News Info / AP) – Homeless aid workers distribute hand sanitizer, monitor temperatures, and plead with people not to crowd. But a week after Governor Gavin Newsom promised thousands of hotel rooms to help homeless people survive the coronavirus pandemic, most of those rooms are empty.
For the majority of California's roughly 150,000 homeless, the message they are getting, if they have one, is to isolate themselves if they feel sick and call a doctor if symptoms worsen.
"Obviously, these are people who write recommendations that have no direct experience with what a person goes through when they are homeless," said Joe Smith, director of advocacy for Loaves & Fishes, a Sacramento nonprofit group that provides meals. and services to the homeless.
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Smith said he has not seen any outreach from public officials to homeless people, many of whom live in tent camps with dozens or hundreds of people at each site.
Across the state, cities and counties said they are setting up handwashing stations, portable toilets, and organizing garbage collection in larger camps, as recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. USA Many shelters are restricting the number of people they will accept to allow for social distancing while struggling with the spread of a virus through coughing and sneezing.
Even after Newsom's executive order to pledge $ 150 million to help homeless people in the midst of the crisis, it's unclear how many homeless people are sick or have been screened. At least one homeless person died in Santa Clara County.
Anne Miskey, executive director of the non-profit organization Union Station Homeless Services in Los Angeles County, said she is concerned that few homeless people appear to be receiving the COVID-19 tests.
The group, which operates two shelters, brought three people for the test, he said, but two were denied and one was examined. He was negative for coronavirus despite high fever and cough.
In San Francisco, fever thermometers appear to be the primary tool for detecting sick people, said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition for the Homeless.
"Unfortunately the shelters do not yet have them, the pending order is supposed to finally arrive today," he said in an email Wednesday. City spokesman Randolph Quezada said the city received the thermometers this week.
San Diego County, with about 8,000 homeless people, has been the most proactive of counties, securing 2,000 rooms and moving more than 200 people. San Francisco, with a similar number of homeless people, has said it has 300 rooms and is still preparing to move people into them.
San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said public health nurses have been checking people at homeless shelters daily, while others roam the streets looking for people with symptoms, checking temperatures and providing kits with information on soap, hand sanitizer and coronavirus, he said.
"We are simply moving through this as quickly as possible to try to configure these systems," said Fletcher.
Some 3,200 people in California are infected with the virus and at least 67 have died, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that disappear within two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia and death.
CDC guidelines say "unless there are individual housing units available," officials should not clean the tented camps, which can disperse people, but should stock up on clean water, toilets, and soap.
Finding out how to protect homeless people has become a problem for communities across the country as the number of infections increases, said Adriane Casalotti of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
"You can't just say 'Stay home' to people like that," he said.
Governor Newsom said Wednesday that the 4,300 hotel and motel rooms purchased by counties to move the most vulnerable are far from the 51,000 needed, even when rooms already purchased are empty.
A rift in San Francisco between homeless advocates and Mayor London Breed over who should move into the rooms prompted a San Francisco supervisor to conduct his own negotiations. Supervisor Dean Preston said he used private donations to get families and older women out of group shelters and into 20 private rooms.
"Every minute counts here," said Preston, whose district includes the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. “Taking people to single rooms is good for all of us. If we don't, it is a risk to vulnerable populations, neighbors and our healthcare system, and this will be more serious and will last longer. "
© Up News Info Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved. Associated Press contributed to this report.