‘Likely a Death Sentence’: Officers fear cold weather virus more vulnerable to homelessness

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After weeks when he opened a day-long shelter for the homeless, Jay Bennett was quite rigid about the 37-man capacity of the building. The last thing he wanted was a lapse in social distortions caused by a deadly coronavirus spread to a population with many in poor health.

But then Kansas City, Mo. The temperature dropped slightly in the week before, and remained there in the coldest Arctic eruption of the season. And Mr. Bennett looked into the eyes of the people waiting outside as the squat, brown building was filled.

“I said, ‘Screw it, just come in,” said Mr. Bennett, who founded Street Medicine Kansas City, a non-profit organization, six years ago. What is the option? Follow the health code for Kovid, or put them in the cold and let them die? “

The cold weather and the country’s homeless crisis have long been a deadly mix that community advocates and public officials have struggled to address. But this winter, coronaviruses have added a dangerous new complication in the form of cities and community groups to shelter members of populations vulnerable to the elements, while not exposing them to an aerial virus that most easily Spreads indoors.

The calculations have been of greater urgency in recent times as the Arctic weather freezes from Minnesota to Texas on a large scale in the middle of the country, with minimum temperatures dropping as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit in some places. are supposed to.

Officials in Ramsey County, Minn., Which also includes St. Paul, have established shelters in an empty hospital and an empty madrasa hostel to give homeless residents a better distance from each other. Chicago officials have used former school buildings as well as Salvation Army and YMCA locations to give service providers more space for shelter beds. The New Life Center, a non-profit rescue mission in Fargo, ND, built an abandoned warehouse to expand its shelter capacity. And in Kansas City, where the forecast is minus 14 degrees on Monday, officials have transformed the Downtown Convention Center – the size of eight football fields – into a shelter.

With dining sites closed to public spaces such as libraries and many fast food restaurants, people experiencing homelessness have fewer places to warm up during the day or use the bathroom. Traditional shelters have had to reduce their capacity for social protection.

At the same time, city leaders and advocates say the economic devastation of the epidemic has increased the number of people in need of homeless services. While there is little data to prove that more people have become homeless in the past year, those leaders and advocates say the actual evidence is clear.

Executive Director, Marqia Watson, said officials with the Greater Kansas City Coalition to Homeless previously saw homeless customers back on the streets. He has also seen several new names on the shelter roster. And, Ms. Watson said, social service providers have told them that their phones are ringing nonstop with people who need things like rent and utility assistance.

“We are seeing the doom of doom we talk about homeless prevention.”

According to a city spokesperson, Kansas City typically spends $ 1.5 million on homeless services. But this year, with the help of the Federal Relief Fund, there are plans to spend $ 8.5 million on the programs, including paying hotel rooms to families in the home and providing financial assistance to prevent evictions.

At the insistence of local activists, city officials opened a temporary shelter with a capacity of 65 people in a community center in mid-January. The number that appeared faster became higher, and city leaders had a difficult call to make.

“We made a collective decision to say, ‘Look, if any one of them had to spend the night in the street, it was a possibility of capital punishment,” said Brian Platt, city manager. “If they come in and are likely to spread or catch the Kovid virus, more likely they can live that way.”

So they allowed the shelter to operate at over capacity.

Concerned Anton Washington, a community organizer who helped lead efforts to urge the city to open a temporary shelter.

“That can’t happen,” Mr. Washington said, recalling city officials, worried about the Kovid-19 outbreak as crowds in the quarters increased. He urged city leaders to find a bigger address.

The city has experienced some minor outbreaks between shelters and homeless individuals. Nationally, sporadic outbreaks have led to groups of dozens of infections, although requirements for investigating and reporting cases among the homeless population have not been as stringent for other groups, such as residents of nursing homes and Prison inmates.

After San Diego officials Last spring a shelter opened in a convention center, Very few residents tested positive over the next several months. But after Thanksgiving, more than 150 residents tested positive, an indication of how and how fast the virus could spread to shelters.

By the end of January, the demand was so large that Kansas City officials moved the shelter from the community center to the convention center, Bartle Hall, and named it for Scott Icke, a 41-year-old man who lived on the streets and was in the New Year. On the day frozen to death. The population at the convention center increased from 150 on Thursday to more than 300, which opened less than two weeks later.

No sooner could the shelter open up for Celestria Gilliard, who failed to make repairs as he lost his Volume 8 reimbursement after he was evicted from his apartment house in October by a two-section house. Ms. Gillard, a waitress whose short shifts and tips were received by the livelihood epidemic, could not submit to a new apartment and bounced into the homes of relatives and friends living on the streets.

The founder of Street Medicine, Mr. Bennett, told Ms. Gillard, 48, about the city’s shelter, and she has been sleeping there since mid-January.

“They try to get us in every night and make sure we’re not cold,” said Ms. Gillard, whose 12-year-old son is living with relatives. “When we hit the door, they’re asking us if we need snacks, hot chocolate, coffee? And they’re really catering for us to the point where I think anyone who is homeless should be Really it needs to be embraced. “

Every morning when Ms. Giallard leaves, she leaves her cot in the fully-made convention center, wrapped with a burgundy blanket, pillows are up and chairs on either side of the night. Time is standing.

Experience has been comfortable to the point that concerns about coronovirus are secondary to him.

Everyone’s temperature is checked when entering. Masks are required. The polishes are located in a bright, airy hall with polished concrete floors in sorted rows and high rafters that give the feel of an airplane hangar. Authorities plan to begin offering the Kovid-19 test on site.

Colorful posters are mounted on a wall with handwritten messages: “We want jobs and training.” “Housing is not handcuffed.” “We have got power.”

While the city provides the space, the shelter is run by activists and community organizations. They have seen it not as a place to sleep at night but as a hub where homeless people can get the services they need and organize and advocate for systemic changes to end homelessness Huh.

“Basically, a shelter is a problem,” said Troy Robertson, 27, a community organizer who has lived on and on the streets since the age of 16.

City officials “need to get us a location that we can ask for temporary or permanent housing,” he said, standing in the shelter where he volunteers. “Just a shelter overnight, to give all this money to say, ‘Oh, we can give these people home at night, and leave us in the morning, not right for me.”

That momentary feeling of asylum a few days ago placed Fahri Korkmaz on the streets in single-digit temperatures and a biting wind that numb the fingers within 10 minutes. He was not interested in temporary relief, he said, but a place that offers services to help get him back on his feet. He had heard of the shelter at the convention center, but was not aware that it offered services, which confronted officials challenging the message to homeless people.

Mr. Korkamaz, 45, was released from prison a few years ago and has been living on the streets since his car broke down five months ago. He worried about catching a disease in a shelter – although Kovid-19 was not a major concern, he said. He did not even want to leave his belongings unclaimed because he was worried that they would be stolen.

So on this recent cold afternoon, he was seated in a gray dome tent under an interstate overpass. Wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, a red jacket, and snow pants, he wrapped himself in three blankets and smoked a cigarette. He kept it warm by burning scented candles while he was awake and curling to use his body heat.

Nevertheless, the Turkish native, Mr. Korçmaz, considered that there could be a limit to how much he could withstand. If the temperature goes down as predicted, they said they would have to shelter.

“I mean, I’m stupid if I don’t go, you know what I mean?” They said. “If I lose my hands and feet, it’s like suicide, self-destruct.”

Mitch Smith contributed reporting.

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