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Protecting the homeless population from COVID, new housing protocols

Posted at 1:33 PM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-14 00:05:19-04

PIMA CO., Ariz. — Crisis shelter housing is still available but the traditional, larger housing spaces have reduced their capacity about 50 to 75-percent.

“To put additional space between beds in the shelter units to to allow for greater social distancing. You have many shelters have moved to having multiple meal time so that folks are not all in one space at the same time,” said Jason Thorpe, the collaborative applicant coordinator at the City of Tucson’s housing and community development department.

However, Thorpe said that doesn’t mean shelter capacity has decreased. The City of Tucson worked with Pima County and several healthcare providers to launch shelter hotel programs. This is through partnerships with Community Bridges Inc., Old Pueblo Community Services, Primavera Foundation and Catholic Community Services.

Currently, there are three hotels, totaling to 300 rooms being managed on a nightly basis. The rooms are serving folks who are high risk and those who are awaiting test results.

“We quickly filled 200 hotel rooms with folks who were high risk. And so we wanted to create a safe place for them to just sort of weather the storm through this process,” said Thorpe.

Thorpe said the coalition will then place a person who tests negative for the virus based on their risk factors.

“It's really being able to parse out these different populations and different approaches to meet each of their needs. And the reality is, we've seen much greater success here than in many cities around the country in preventing the spread of COVID-19 among the people experiencing homelessness,” said Thorpe.

On-site testing is provided at shelter request, in partnership with the health department and El Rio Health.

“And so testing is critical and essential, of course. But then when folks test positive. There's also a need for managed continued healthcare. And so this partnership with El Rio since the very beginning of the pandemic was developed specifically so that folks testing positive were immediately bridged into continued health care and health case management to support their recovery,” said Thorpe.

The shelters and hotel operations are funded by the CARES Act and other coronavirus relief funds.