High-risk persons and those who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus can stay in hotel rooms while receiving homeless services.
FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA — For vulnerable persons experiencing homelessness, self-isolation or self-quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic is easier said than done. They rely on places such as shelters and daytime drop-in centers for food, laundry, and other critical services. As a result, service providers have made adjustments and must prepare for the likelihood that homeless people may have been infected.
“They’re much more vulnerable in terms of being more susceptible to catching the virus,” said John MacPherson, executive director of the Lamb Center, a daytime shelter in Fairfax. That’s why the center is checking the temperatures of homeless guests at the door. If they have a fever, they can be tested for the virus by a nurse practitioner. In the meantime, there is a place for them to isolate.
Fairfax County’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness and local partners worked to establish a hotel room program to house homeless persons based on need during the coronavirus pandemic. People are referred to hotels by homeless service providers, medical providers such as Health Works of Northern Virginia and Neighborhood Health, and county staff. The rooms are geared toward those who have been tested and are awaiting results, those who have tested positive, and people at higher risk for severe complications from the virus.
Hotels are also being used to help shelters run at a safer capacity in light of social distancing.
Shelter operators such as New Hope Housing, which runs the county’s Bailey’s and Eleanor U. Kennedy shelters, are tasked with a goal of reducing capacity to 50 percent to decompress congregate living settings. Jan-Michael Sacharko, New Hope Housing’s director of development, told Patch the shelters can each host about 50 people but that social distancing is a challenge.
“In the course of the pandemic, it’s still too much because we have to space people out,” Sacharko said.
New Hope Housing’s executive director, Pam Mitchell, said the pandemic has affected a few of the homeless persons the nonprofit serves. The bigger concern is prevention, Mitchell says, because people who have lived on the streets have likely developed some kind of underlying health condition.
At least six hotels are on board to shelter vulnerable persons around Fairfax County. According to the latest Fairfax County Health and Human Services update, 241 hotel rooms were occupied with 255 guests as of June 16. So far, 456 rooms in six hotels have been secured for the program. The capacity increased when the sixth hotel in southern Fairfax County came on board last week.
The amount of time spent in the hotel rooms varies by a person’s circumstances. A person awaiting coronavirus test results would self-quarantine and leave if they receive a negative result. If the result is positive, a person will isolate for 14 days. For individuals at higher risk, there is no set timeline for their stay.