Mayor Sylvester Turner joined with representatives from several local organizations recently to provide details on how the city's homeless population is being helped during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Throughout the pandemic, more than 100 partner agencies in The Way Home homeless response system have been working diligently to provide services to this vulnerable population.
On an average day, homeless men and women, who nearly all suffer from chronic, underlying health conditions, are some of our most vulnerable at-risk individuals in Houston. That vulnerability is compounded during a pandemic, as our homeless either do not readily have access to hand hygiene (like running water) or live in dense shelters where it is challenging to practice social distancing.
"To prevent people from dying on our streets or in our shelters, the City worked quickly, engaging the CDC and HUD, local partners, and cities around the world. We have created and implemented a comprehensive three-prong response focusing on three key areas: prevention, emergency response, and recovery," said Mayor Turner.
Ten area outreach teams distribute vital information and supplies to the unsheltered population while screening those on the streets for symptoms. Along with the County and the Downtown Management District, we have placed more than 20 handwashing stations in the areas with the highest concentrations of homeless individuals.
We have also distributed to homeless agencies and homeless individuals:
- More than 8,800 face masks
- 6,500 bottles of hand sanitizer
- 15,000 antiseptic wipes
The Fonde Recreation Center has been repurposed into an Ancillary Shelter, enabling our largest shelters to decompress and fully implement social distancing. The Salvation Army created intake and screening processes, assembled supplies and food services, and devised the operational and logistical plans to make this facility a reality.
"We are grateful to be trusted with the task of providing a home for those experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis, and we stand ready to support our government partners and city officials however we possibly can. While we will continue to operate the temporary emergency shelter as long as needed, our ultimate goal is to provide a permanent housing option to every resident we serve at the facility," said Major Zach Bell, Area Commander of The Salvation Army of Greater Houston."
The City and County has launched an innovative Homeless Testing Program to ensure that all homeless individuals have access to testing.
- Homeless agencies, shelters, outreach teams and even homeless individuals themselves can call the Homeless Testing hotline at 713-286-6047 where they are quickly assessed, and provided with transportation to the Homeless Testing site by specialized Yellow Cabs through a partnership with METRO and operated by Healthcare for the Homeless - Houston.
Until test results come back, or in the case a homeless individual is positive, they need a place to stay and medically recover. The Joint, City and County Quarantine & Isolation Facility, provides shelter, food and medical care to enable individuals without a home to self-quarantine and isolate as needed. Individuals are referred through The Homeless Testing Program or directly from hospitals.
"The three-prong action plan is operating now. This is just the beginning to make sure our homeless and other under-served communities are not forgotten and remain a top for my administration," said Mayor Turner.
"To help bring these efforts to fruition, we have depended on the Coalition for the Homeless, who has helped us plan, mobilize, and coordinate the 100-local agency – that make up our region's homeless response system – during this time of need," said Marc Eichenbaum, Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives.
"As lead agency to The Way Home, the Coalition for the Homeless has been proud to support them. We are distributing thousands of pieces of equipment and supplies, sharing guidance on how to remain open while limiting the spread of the disease, and helping to stand up access to testing and care for those in our region experiencing homelessness. And we are grateful to Mayor Turner and the City for their support of and contributions to this work," said Michael C. Nichols, Coalition for the Homeless president and CEO.