As the Bay Area grapples with an unprecedented shutdown prompted
by fears of the spreading coronavirus, the mass closures have made
a hard life even harder for the region’s thousands of homeless
The region-wide shelter in place order that went into effect
Monday exempts businesses and organizations that provide food,
shelter and social services to people in need. But even so, many
groups have been forced to cancel everything from meal distribution
to medical clinics because they don’t have the staff, supply or
safety precautions necessary to continue — leaving the region’s
most vulnerable residents without key resources during a time of
To make matters worse, many public facilities the homeless rely
on have been shuttered. Libraries, where homeless patrons use the
bathroom, access computers, kill time or even sleep, have stopped
service. Restaurants and coffee shops where they could sit or
charge their phones have closed, as have the gyms and YMCAs where
they used to shower. Even the recycling centers many depended on
for a meager income have shut down.
“I think as humans we thrive in systems that are regimented,
that we can count on. And I think particularly for homeless folks,
this is really upending whatever life they had developed in terms
of where they go, where they travel, what they do during the
day,” said Josh Selo, executive director of West Valley Community
Services, which provides a food bank and other resources to
homeless and low-income residents in Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos
and parts of San Jose.
As do-gooders stay home, restaurants and caterers close and
grocery stores run out of food, getting enough to eat has become a
struggle for some of the region’s homeless residents. Usually,
food donations flow into the Berkeley homeless camps activist group
Where Do We Go Berkeley? serves, said lead organizer Andrea Henson.
But now, for the first time, she’s getting requests every day
from unhoused people in need of food.
“People are already hungry,” she said.
The East Oakland Collective, which typically serves more than
400 meals a week to homeless residents, was forced to stop when its
caterer closed. And the group likely will postpone its Feed the
Hood event scheduled for next month, during which volunteers were
set to distribute 3,000 lunches and more than 1,000 hygiene kits to
the homeless. Instead, the group is picking up extra food from
local restaurants and other community sources and distributing it
among the homeless.
Medical services for the homeless also have been disrupted. The
volunteer-run Berkeley Free Clinic last week announced it would
close until further notice because its team lacks the gear and
training to respond to COVID-19.
hey y’all – after a long discussion, we’ve
decided to close the Berkeley Free Clinic until further notice and
for a minimum of 3 weeks. as a clinic staffed by lay volunteers, we
lack the gear, training, and knowledge to respond to CoVID-19.
— Berkeley Free Clinic (@BerkFreeClinic)
March 13, 2020
Local leaders are stepping up to try and help, doing everything
from stopping evictions to launching new funds to help struggling
residents. Silicon Valley officials and community leaders on
Wednesday launched the
Silicon Valley Strong program — a website that gathers
resources residents need during the crisis into one landing page,
and two funds, one regional and one local, to address the economic
impact of COVID-19.
Since the shelter-in-place order came down, 44-year-old Brandon
Mercer, who lives in a homeless encampment at Ashby Avenue and
Shellmound Street in Emeryville, has worried he’ll run into
trouble with the police for being out and about on the streets.
(Law enforcement agencies around the Bay Area have said they
won’t cite people for violating the shelter-in-place
Mercer, who lives in a make-shift tiny home without water or
electricity, works part-time bussing tables in restaurants. But
there’s no work right now, he said. To supplement his income, he
recycles cans and bottles. But the recycling center at 2nd and
Gillman streets has suspended its buyback program until further
“If I can’t recycle, then I can’t make money that way,”
Mercer said. “And if I can’t make money, then I can’t feed
Just when people like Mercer need them most,
food pantries and meal distribution programs are struggling.
West Valley Community Services normally has as many as 28
volunteers each morning who pick up unwanted food from grocery
stores, sort donations, distribute food to clients and man the
front desk. On Tuesday, it had three.
“We’re running on a skeleton crew of volunteers, which makes
it very hard to keep up with the demand for food that we’re
experiencing,” Selo said.
Many of the organization’s usual volunteers are over 65, and
therefore are staying home because they’re particularly
vulnerable to experiencing serious symptoms from COVID-19. At the
same time, donations are down and grocery stores, which have been
all but cleaned out by people panic-buying supplies, have fewer
leftover items. For now, West Valley Services has been keeping its
pantry full with donations from restaurants — such as The Town
Kitchen, with locations in Oakland and Redwood City — of extra
food they couldn’t sell before closing.
But that will only last so long, Selo said.
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“I’m concerned about what happens next week and beyond,” he
Despite the uncertainty, people in the nonprofit sector —
while staying busy helping the region’s homeless and low-income
residents — also are helping each other. Destination: Home in San
Jose, for example, has been sending lunch to other nonprofits.
“The heroics that are happening right now in my sector,”
Destination: Home CEO Jennifer Loving said, “it’s not a
surprise, but it’s just beautiful.”
Locals! Send your local nonprofits lunch!
Support essential services that are still going during shutdown.
Our friends at @HealthTrust
are making sure homebound seniors have meals today. We love you
& are delivering lunch to you. @ing some friends
to do this w/ us! who’s in? pic.twitter.com/XE0IcX0e4V
— Destination: Home (@DSTNHome)
March 17, 2020
Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Coronavirus: As Bay Area cities shut down, homeless are hit the hardest