Richmond homeless shelters vigilant amid coronavirus outbreak

GRIP seeks volunteers to help prep 800 meals daily for County's homeless
GRIP shelter located at 165 22nd St. in Richmond.
By Mike Kinney

Local shelters and county officials remain vigilant amid concerns over the impact the COVID-19 pandemic could have on local homeless populations, particularly those most vulnerable to the illness such as seniors and those with existing health issues.

Shelters such as the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program at 165 22nd St. and the Bay Area Rescue Mission at 200 Macdonald Ave. are responding to the crisis at a time when the homeless population is on the rise. The County’s Point-in-Time count done last year tallied an increase of 43 percent over two years in the homeless population, with 577 of the 2,295 individuals counted over the age of 50, and 165 over 62. In November last year, city officials reported a 98 percent increase in homeless encampment when comparing 2007 and 2019.

“The homeless population is probably the most vulnerable of all,” said Kathleen Sullivan, GRIP’s executive director. “If they are over 60 they may have health issues that might comprise there immune system. They may have diagnosed or undiagnosed health issues.”

Sullivan said her team is distributing hand sanitizer and bottled water to encampments to ensure unsheltered people are staying clean and hydrated. Meanwhile, GRIP is communicating daily with County health officials to implement best practices both in and out of its shelter.

The same is happening at Bay Area Rescue Mission, where flyers are posted throughout the facility providing instructions to clients on proper hand-washing and other prevention methods.

“We are maintaining a very high level of cleaning and sanitizing at our facility,” said Rev. John Anderson, president and CEO of the Bay Area Rescue Mission. “We make sure from the top to down line that our staff are disseminating information to clients to make sure they are aware of the protocols being advised by the [Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] and the County Health department.”

On Thursday, Contra Costa Health Services released details about its response to preventing the spread of coronavirus among homeless populations. The County activated its Operations Center to coordinate public health responses countywide and to coordinate with regional partners. County health officials are working closely with shelters to provide guidance how to respond to suspect cases, and on identifying rooms that are appropriate for isolating those cases.

County health officials have also developed guidance for street outreach staff who visit encampments, and for individuals living in encampment, vehicles, and RVs. CORE street outreach teams are distributing hygiene supplies, including hand sanitizer and advice flyers to vehicle and encampment residents.

Healthcare for the Homeless street health teams are evaluating and advising clients in the encampment or street settings that they outreach.