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How will Arizona manage a COVID-19 outbreak in homeless encampments?

Posted at 8:55 PM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 15:50:05-04

PHOENIX, AZ — Advocates for people experiencing homeless are concerned about the impact a COVID-19 outbreak could have on those who are among the most vulnerable.

"It's a little bit unnerving for all of us who work in this community to think about the possibility of the virus getting into that population," said Lisa Glow CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS).

CASS runs the largest emergency shelter Arizona with 470 beds. Glow says workers are focused on cleanliness inside the shelter.

"We've increased our cleaning schedule as much as we possibly can. We have disinfectants that we clean the shelter with daily. But we're doing even more. We're wiping down the counters every hour, if not more often. Every client enters the adult shelter -- 470 people -- are asked to wash their hands upon entry," she said.

But she's also concerned with what could happen outside in homeless encampments if a case pops up.

"It could spread like wildfire," she said, because the homeless population often doesn't have access to medical care and places to self-quarantine.

"We're hoping that there are places where people can go to be isolated," Glow said.

She believes there needs to be a quarantine site specifically for people who are homeless, and points to other regions that are already taking action.

"San Jose placed a moratorium on evictions," she said. "Maricopa County has the second highest eviction rate in the nation. They did that is because they don't want people to lose their homes and become homeless."

According to a report from the Mercury News, that city has also set aside $5 million to help prevent the spread around homeless communities and has stopped dismantling encampments to prevent new exposures to the virus.

The Seattle Times reported that King County, Washington, has purchased a motel as a quarantine site for potentially infected people who are homeless.

So what is Maricopa County doing? It's talking.

The Maricopa County Department of Health sent ABC15 a statement saying it's "in conversation with several partners who serve the homeless population...for a collaborative approach to providing appropriate care for individuals without homes."

ABC15 reached out to both the Arizona Department of Health Services and Governor Doug Ducey's office for information about the COVID-19 plan for people who are homeless. We are still waiting on an answer.

On Thursday, legislators approved $55 million in emergency funds to combat the spread of the virus. That's in addition to the $12 million in federal money released to Arizona. Glow is hopeful at least some of that goes toward preventing the spread among the homeless.

"My hope would be that there would be funding to do the preventative outreach to encampments, to help us at the shelter to prevent anything, to put funding into places where people could be isolated should there be an outbreak," Glow said.

Flagstaff Shelter Services released a statement Friday, saying they are expecting their need for services to increase. They are asking for more donations to keep up with demand. Read their statement here.