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Caring for Guilford County's Homeless Population During COVID-19

County Partners Work Together To Address Vulnerable Populations

Post Date:04/06/2020 9:04 AM

One of the many challenges leaders of heavily populated areas like Guilford County face on a daily basis is ensuring the needs of some of our must vulnerable populations experiencing homelessness are met.  During the COVID-19 outbreak, the challenge Is even greater. The typical congregate and semi-congregate living arrangements of those living in shelters and supportive housing may place at-risk individuals in an atmosphere that is hazardous to their health. The Public Health Department has put this issue at the top of its list for communicable disease prevention, as intervention efforts to reduce community spread of the virus intensify.

Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Phillips shared that the County’s top leaders, public health officials and emergency planners have been working with representatives from Partners Ending Homelessness and Continuum of Care (CoC) regarding our homeless communities. The County’s primary role through its Public Health Department is to prevent the spread of the disease. “County staff have been diligently working on solutions to mitigate the risks of coronavirus spread within our homeless shelters and amongst our homeless population across the county. Addressing the safety and health of our homeless citizens is of critical importance, in addition to the already significant needs being addressed on behalf of all Guilford County citizens since the onset of the crisis.”

Public Health Director, Dr. Iulia Vann added, “Shelters and other areas for mass congregation are at high risk for the spread of any communicable disease, including COVID-19. It is vital that as a community we work together to plan for the needs of our homeless populations. We have provided detailed instructions, such as how to perform safe intake of persons coming into shelters, as well as protocols and placement for those experiencing mild symptoms and those who require isolation and quarantine. It takes a lot of collaboration to put these systems into place. The COVID-19 virus is a very dynamic problem which necessitates ongoing support and communication between all groups.  We are working to help keep our hospitals available for those who have severe healthcare needs, and still provide testing and options and alternate housing sites for those experiencing mild symptoms, and providing respite care locations for those who have been ordered into isolation.”

Dr. Vann went on to share that much of the guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding homeless recommends that people in existing homeless shelters should stay in that facility, and movement to and from the facility should be restricted or controlled as much as possible with limitations on visitors.  Homeless individuals living in encampments should stay in that environment and should not be moved or encouraged to move to a shelter and grouped together. 

County Commissioner At-Large Kay Cashion, who has been working with the homeless community for many years, shared that, “as a community we all need to work to ensure that our most vulnerable are taken care of. The County has been working for some time now with representatives who support our homeless community, and the continuing collaboration in addressing new and existing needs has been heartening.”

As an example of this collaboration, Don Campbell County Director of Emergency Operation points out is that the City of Greensboro has taken the lead to provide transportation for those identified for alternate housing. “The City of Greensboro is working very hard to remove all barriers for those who need transportation to isolation locations or to respite housing. They have been a strong partner for us and have continually stepped up to help meet the needs of the homeless.”

The County continues to address the rapid spread of the virus through the issuance of the Stay at Home order and the many levels of systems it puts into place through coordination of testing and personal protective equipment resources for medical providers, support for first responders, and guidance and housing alternatives for homeless shelters, to name just a few.

Chairman Jeff Phillips, stated “This has been said before, and it warrants repeating; this is a marathon and not a sprint. This virus has upended all our lives and it has been very challenging. All our efforts, and those of our many partner agencies have been, and continue to be, focused on saving lives and keeping people healthy. We will continue to be responsive as we assess the spread of the virus and hope to get back to normal as quickly as possible.”

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