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Homeless shelters prepare for COVID-19; may use dorms or state hospital property as space

The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness is urging homeless shelters to remain open amid the outbreak of Coronavirus.
Credit: WTIC

As Connecticut struggles to combat the Coronavirus, people in Connecticut are struggling every day to find food and keep a roof over their heads. On any given day in Connecticut, more than 3,000 people don’t have a home.

The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness is urging homeless shelters to remain open amid the outbreak of Coronavirus. But at the same time, they are working with the State Department of Housing to expedite permanent living arrangements for as many as possible.

Richard Cho is the CEO of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. 

“If we can decrease the census of people in shelters now, we’d be able to actually spread more people out and minimize the chance of spreading the infection,” Cho said.

The coalition has added a Coronavirus symptom screening questionnaire to their resource page. But many of the smaller shelters don’t have the needed supplies to adequately clean and protect.

”A lot of them purchase those cleaning supplies. Hand sanitizer, face masks at the same big box stores that any of us would purchase those and as you can go to any store in this state, those shelves are cleared,” said Cho.

Homeless shelter guests are particularly vulnerable to getting and experiencing complications from the virus. Many are elderly, perhaps a homeless veteran, or have underlying health conditions from years of substance abuse. “We found out 27% have lung disease, over a quarter have heart disease and up to 17% have diabetes.”

At homeless shelters, space is tight too, making social distancing hard to follow. 

“The Centers for Disease Control recommends that for any congregate settings that beds be at ideally 6 feet apart or at least 3 feet apart. If you go to any shelter in our state it’s very rare that you’ll see shelter beds being spaced apart that frequently,” remarked Cho.

Shelters are trying to identify where they could isolate people within the shelters, but it’s not even close to a perfect solution. 

“Many of the shelters are trying to identify spaces. They are going to clear out their staff offices if they need to isolate people. Put a mask on them and try to keep them apart from other residents. But really ideally speaking what we need to do is find spaces where we can quarantine them outside shelters.” For that, they are working with the state Government. “There are a few state hospital properties that are being considered right now. College dorms have come up as a possibility.”

In this difficult time shelters are also stepping up diversionary practices. They are encouraging guests to sleep on a friend's couch or do anything possible to use a shelter only as a last resort.

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