‘A matter of life and death:’ Plan to house Bay Area homeless during coronavirus outbreak spurs hope, questions

As the Bay Area navigates its first day of an unprecedented,
near-total shutdown amid worsening fears of the spreading
coronavirus, officials are still trying to figure out how to get
the region’s homeless off the streets as soon as possible.

A day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his intention to turn
hotels and motels into emergency housing for the homeless
throughout the state, details about how the plan would be work were
scant, but activists were optimistic.

Finding housing for these vulnerable residents so they can
protect themselves from the virus is “a matter of life and
death,” and hotels and motels seem like the obvious choice, said
Jennifer Loving, CEO of Destination: Home.

“We have to be able to protect them, and we know that sleeping
in a camp or sleeping within one foot of other people is not
right,” she said.

Newsom on Monday announced the state has secured leases for 393
rooms in two hotels near the Oakland airport to house homeless
people who are in a “position of real vulnerability” in the
face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. He said he hoped to
ultimately secure thousands of rooms, and his office already had
identified 901 hotels as possible candidates, and was in
conversations with their owners.

His announcement came after seven Bay Area counties ordered
their residents to shelter in place, and while homeless residents
are exempt, the order “strongly urged” them to find shelter,
and local governments and service providers to make shelter
available.

County officials working with the governor’s office were not
ready to reveal specifics of the state-wide plan Tuesday, but Ky
Le, director of supportive housing for Santa Clara County,
confirmed his office is working on the problem.

“We are working on temporary shelter spaces, both motel rooms
and large facilities, to help with isolation, separation and social
distancing, and just providing more shelter to unsheltered
persons,” he said.

Talya Husbands-Hankin, an activist who works with the homeless
in Oakland, said the plan to use hotels and motels seems like a
good one, but it raises questions.

“I appreciate the effort, and hopefully it will be something
that is actually helpful for people,” she said. “I’m curious
how they’re actually going to implement that, though.”

For example, can people bring all their belongings to the
hotels? What about their pets? How will officials decide who gets a
hotel room and who doesn’t? And once the coronavirus outbreak
subsides, will these people be forced to go back onto the
streets?

The plan also raises huge questions about scale. So far the
state has secured 393 rooms in Oakland — a city with more than
4,000 homeless residents.

Whatever the state and local officials do, they need to do it
fast, Husbands-Hankin said. She’s been handing out hand sanitizer
among residents of the city’s homeless encampments, and she said
people living in the camps are scared. So is Husbands-Hankin.

“I’m terrified for everyone out on the streets right now,”
she said.

Both Oakland and San Jose have stepped up hygiene measures —
installing new hand-washing stations in encampments and passing out
bottles of hand sanitizer. But the main need is for homeless
residents to have somewhere to go to self-isolate so they don’t
get sick — or if they are already sick, so they don’t spread
the virus.

Newsom on Monday reported a homeless resident from Santa Clara
County had died of COVID-19, but the county on Tuesday couldn’t
confirm the death or provide additional information.

Phil Mastrocola, who runs a homeless shelter at Grace Baptist
Church in San Jose, applauded the governor’s effort to get the
unhoused off the street.

“I think it’s a great effort,” he said. “And we need
everybody to help out. If people have vacant rooms of any kind,
whether they’re hotel rooms or apartments or whatever, they
should be used for people who are wandering around.”

Mastrocola also has been talking to leaders of other churches
— most of which have stopped services and other activities during
the shutdown — about using their now-vacant buildings to shelter
the homeless.

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At the Grace Baptist Church shelter, which holds up to 50 people,
Mastrocola and his team are making sure beds are 10 feet apart,
meals are served individually instead of in a long line, and guests
have access to sanitizer, gloves and face masks.

Just as with the seven-county shutdown, it’s still unclear
whether pulling the homeless off the streets and into hotels will
help slow the spread of coronavirus, Loving said.

“We’re going to try this, and if this doesn’t work,
we’re going to have to try something else,” she said. “We
don’t know. We are literally on the front lines of this pandemic,
and every day the world changes a little bit more.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
‘A matter of life and death:’ Plan to house Bay Area homeless during coronavirus outbreak spurs hope, questions