Homeless shelter epidemics test isolation efforts – Voice of San Diego

Father Joe’s Villages Paul Mirabile Center shelter at its St. Vincent de Paul campus in East Village recorded 22 confirmed cases of COVID last week. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

An increase in coronavirus cases that hit San Diego over the holidays has also hit some of the city’s homeless shelters, triggering a rush last week to isolate residents staying in crowded shelters.

Dozens of residents of shelters operated by Alpha Project and Father Joe’s Villages stayed for days in party tents used as temporary shelters, which vendors struggled to keep warm in cold weather and a shortage of rooms. county-backed hotel intended to provide a safe haven.

County says it added 40 hotel rooms to meet growing demand for isolation spaces on Monday, days after 50 positive cases emerged in Alpha Project’s Barrio Logan and East Village tents and two shelters downtown area run by Father Joe’s Villages.

Yet, on Wednesday, the city and Project Alpha said only two residents of the shelter who tested positive had moved into one of the county’s 137 hotel rooms reserved for people who tested positive or exposed to COVID and had no HIV. safe place to isolate yourself. . Nearly 40 residents of the shelters remained in makeshift isolation spaces on Wednesday evening as part of a required 10-day isolation period before they could return to city-funded shelters.

County spokesman Tim McClain wrote in an email that many should end their periods of isolation in makeshift shelters with regular communication between providers, the Housing Commission and the county “to ensure that isolated people receive appropriate treatment “.

Urban shelter providers have been trained on how to safely isolate those who test positive and “are responding accordingly during this increase in cases,” McClain wrote.

The county began contacting hotel operators last week to try to expand its offerings, McClain said. He added that increased tourism has made it less desirable for hotel operators to serve as isolated hotels, complicating the county’s efforts to add rooms as well as ongoing staffing issues.

The county’s efforts to add rooms came more than a week after researchers at UC San Diego warned on December 18 that an increase in COVID cases could arrive in San Diego following a spike of coronavirus detected in wastewater.

The results of this week’s round of tests at city shelters are expected soon. For now, the city has suspended admissions to Project Alpha and Father Joe’s shelters in the face of outbreaks while it performs additional testing.

Shelters nationwide are grappling with the more transmissible omicron variant in assembly settings particularly vulnerable to outbreaks and where to relocate those who contract COVID.

In San Diego and elsewhere, coronavirus outbreaks have only increased long-standing calls from lawyers and some medical experts to proactively move more vulnerable homeless people to hotel rooms during the pandemic – and to expand offers for those who test positive for the coronavirus. San Diego County currently plans to end its hotel program by March 31, and has already stopped moving homeless people in San Diego with underlying conditions that have not been tested positive for the coronavirus.

The city, county and shelter providers have rushed to deal with outbreaks before and in some cases have struggled to access hotels.

The convention center, a refuge for the city and county, rose in 2020 with more than 200 cases last December. At the end of August 2021, nearly 100 homeless people from San Diegan staying in two shelters at Father Joe’s Villages tested positive.

Father Joe’s reported after his outbreak in August that it took up to four days for some residents of the shelter who tested positive to leave the temporary isolation areas.

Months later, on a vacation wave, Father Joe’s said none of his residents at the shelter had moved from makeshift isolation space to hotel rooms a week after many have received positive results.

During the August outbreak, Father Joe set up an outdoor isolation tent in a closed area outside his Paul Mirabile Center shelter in East Village which in recent days has hosted both the Project Alpha and Father Joe’s residents who tested positive.

But last Wednesday, Alpha Project program director Jesse Miller said 22 clients of the Alpha Project had been confirmed positive and Father Joe’s said he needed space for his own residents after receiving a surge of his. own positive test results which ultimately totaled 28.

There was also no availability in county hotel rooms.

So that night, Alpha Project and the Housing Commission turned to the enclosed indoor skydiving facility that became a town-owned homeless response center just steps from Father Joe’s isolation tent. to spend the night there. Nearly two dozen Project Alpha clients who tested positive spent the night in the old skydiving center on mattresses provided by Father Joe’s.

Miller said the Alpha Project and the city’s housing commission rushed to find other options, eventually coming to a plan for the nonprofit to prepay for a party tent. similar to the one used by Father Joe which could be placed in one of the secure parking lots in town. for homeless people living in cars.

In the days that followed, Miller and Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy said the nonprofit brought those isolated to its urban shelters to take showers, and rushed to ” increase the meal service and heating in his new tent in the secure parking lot of Aero Drive.

Housing Commission Executive Vice President Lisa Jones wrote in an email that the agency had agreed to reimburse Alpha Project for all purchases it had rushed to make to “provide an enabling environment in temporary spaces “.

Jones wrote that the city, Project Alpha, and another Jewish Family Service nonprofit moved to the secure parking site because it provided access to restrooms, handwashing stations and the entrance. controlled. Jones also said people living in vehicles who had spent the night on the Aero Drive lot were referred to open spaces in secure parking lots on Mission Valley and Balboa Avenue.

Jones and leaders of the Alpha Project and Father Joe’s Villages praised the shelter staff tasked with responding to the increased caseload over the holidays and an already limited staffing period, a dynamic that the county says has also slowed down its hotel program. McElroy also praised the Housing Commission and residents of the shelters – including those who contracted COVID – who he said have also escalated during a crisis.

McElroy said he wants the city and county to be better prepared for an expected vacation wave associated with the more communicable omicron variant at a time when many nonprofit and local government employees are taking time off, exacerbating the staff shortages that all faced during the pandemic.

Instead, providers and the Housing Commission rushed in last week, he said.

“We knew there was going to be a tsunami here and then we had no resources,” McElroy said.

John Brady, who once lived on the streets and now sits on the governing council overseeing the city’s progress on its homelessness plan, said he contacted city and county officials before Christmas to inquire about their plans to protect shelter residents and deal with an expected increase. in positive cases associated with the omicron variant.

Brady said he appreciated the responses he received from Jones and Hafsa Kaka, director of the city’s homeless strategies and solutions department, but was disappointed that the city’s subsequent response and County surge in cases appears to reflect a lack of advance planning. .

“We should have been ahead of the game,” Brady said. “We have already experienced this rodeo.

Kaka wrote in an email to VOSD that the city and county have teamed up to provide additional COVID testing from Thanksgiving and have activated protocols since then to keep residents of shelters and those being tested safe. is positive. Transportation to a county-run hotel room has traditionally been part of this plan.

But Kaka and the county said staffing issues complicated matters.

“The increase in positive cases seen across the San Diego area is having a huge impact on already limited staff resources, both on the service provider and the county public health teams. This posed problems with the transportation and availability of the county’s public health wards, ”Kaka wrote. “The city and (the Housing Commission) have been working around the clock with service providers to ensure that there are isolation options in the interim until county public health wards are available. “

Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the county watchdog, told a press conference on Monday that the county recognizes the need for more isolation rooms amid the spike in COVID cases in shelters and is rushing to add more. But he said the county continued to fight to make sure it can serve the residents who stay there.

“The challenge on these isn’t just getting the rooms, but also staffing them,” Fletcher said.


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