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Indybay Feature
During Coronavirus Crisis, What If You Can't Stay Home?
by Street Sheet
Thursday Mar 12th, 2020 11:11 AM
Recommendations to support the health of people experiencing homelessness during the Coronavirus State of Emergency
Last updated Monday, March 9th @2:50pm
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Concern about the spread of coronavirus is widespread, including in homeless communities here in San Francisco. There is no reason to believe that homeless people are more likely to get the virus, and we should collectively shut down any effort to further stigmatize those living in encampments or shelters.

However, if the virus does spread to homeless people we must be sure that there will be adequate resources and information offered to those impacted as well as our community at large, and we need to make sure homeless people have the resources to prevent infection. The following is a list of recommendations to city officials thinking through a response to the spread of coronavirus that account for the particular needs and vulnerabilities of unhoused San Franciscans.

A plan for disseminating information to homeless people and front-line service providers, preventing spread of the virus, and responding to potential outbreaks, should be developed with input from homeless people, advocates, and services providers. These community members have additional resources to employ that can help more people, and can advise on the challenges of engaging an emergency response that reaches as many unhoused San Franciscans as possible. Offer a 24/7 anonymous hotline for folks who think they have been exposed to the virus that is absolutely free from police, ICE, or any involuntary detention. The toll free number should be staffed by people trained to share info on resources specific to unhoused people

Outreach should be done in encampments, shelters, drop-ins, and SROs to share information about hygiene stations, testing facilities, and individual housing resources and help people enroll in Medicaid or local health plans.

There should be a moratorium on evictions in San Francisco so that no new people are experiencing homelessness as a result of this virus. Plans of action for responding to coronavirus in encampments, Navigation Centers, shelters, and SROs should be made publicly available on the HSH and DPH websites.

Homeless people are already at greater risk because of compromised health due to stress, chronic sleep deprivation, and exposure. Given the crisis we are facing, we need an immediate moratorium on sweeps so that people in encampments can stay in touch with health outreach workers, have consistent access to hygiene stations, not be forcibly deprived of medications and survival gear that protect people, and can get enough sleep to keep their immune systems up. Increase hygiene facilities, including hand washing stations and pit stops, in areas with known encampments. Expand hours at existing pit stops.

Ensure outreach workers are disseminating information on coronavirus symptoms, prevention strategies, and hygiene station locations. Health workers, rather than police, should always be the first responders to health concerns in encampments.

Individual housing accommodations, potentially including modular units, should be arranged immediately for anyone infected to prevent transmission of the virus to other residents. This has been done in the Seattle area. This should include safe parking programs for people who are vehicularly housed. There should be a moratorium on towing vehicles that house people, as these individual accommodations make it possible for people to self-quarantine.

San Francisco should develop a plan for congregate shelters and drop-ins that makes coronavirus tests available when possible for folks who may be infected. City staff should lead trainings for service providers and guests on how to minimize risk of transmission, prevent contamination, and respond to the virus. Shelter and drop-in staff should be regularly sanitizing surfaces to prevent contamination.

Individual accommodations should be arranged immediately for anyone infected, and anyone who is known to have been exposed to the virus so other shelter or drop in guests don’t have prolonged exposure. People staying in shelters, drop ins or Navigation centers should have access to harm reduction tools and should not be denied service for any rule violations short of violence. Shelters, Navigation Centers, and Drop-ins should be open 24/7 and the city should be ready to open emergency shelter space if consistent with public health recommendations

San Francisco’s COVID-19 plan should take into consideration input from the SRO Collaborative in shaping a response to the heightened risk in congregate living facilities. We recognize that 40% of the county jail population is comprised of people experiencing homelessness. Medical teams should be dispatched to jails, prisons, halfway houses, and other locked facilities to assess and treat patients. Physicians on-site must have the authority to dictate necessary changes in facility conditions in order to treat the sick and stem the spread of the illness.

Most facilities already have inadequate medical staffing and an outbreak will likely lead to many people failing to come to work. San Francisco should (at least) temporarily release anyone currently being held in jail who is not considered a threat to public safety, as is currently being done in Iran.

The majority of homeless people in San Francisco have one or more physical and/or mental disabilities. San Francisco’s COVID-19 plan should include transportation assistance and accessible care for patients with disabilities. These guidelines should be developed in collaboration with disabled people and public health officials and must respect the rights and autonomy of people with disabilities.

This list of recommendations comes from homeless people and advocates at the Coalition on Homelessness and the Street Sheet newspaper in San Francisco, and will be kept updated on our website STREETSHEET.org. Many of our recommendations were adapted from this amazing resource created by Kelly Hayes, a queer indigenous organizer and nonviolent direct action trainer with We Charge Genocide and the Chicago Light Brigade, and published on transformativespaces.org.
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