Five people affiliated with the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust — three clients and two employees — have been ordered to self-quarantine amid a coronavirus outbreak in South Florida, according to chairman Ron Book.
The homeless clients are a woman in her mid-40s and a man and woman in their 70s. All five people may have been exposed to someone with the virus but did not meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing, according to Book.
"We were not going to wait around for guidance," he says.
The Homeless Trust sent out a press release Friday detailing its plan of action for homeless clients. Like many other establishments, the Trust says it is educating staff on how to screen for symptoms. Workers are regularly cleaning the organization's facilities, vehicles, and other touchpoints.
Seniors and clients with underlying health conditions — some of the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 — are being pre-identified, the press release says. Members of the Homeless Trust Outreach team, otherwise known as green shirts, are visiting various parts of Miami to take the temperature of homeless people and passing out educational materials and hand sanitizer.
The vast majority of people living on the streets have underlying health conditions, Book says. The Homeless Trust is working with the Lazarus Project, a medical-based outreach team that operates out of Camillus House, to identify and treat those with exhibiting symptoms. If a person at a Homeless Trust shelter has symptoms, he or she is to be quarantined at the shelter. If a symptomatic person is living on the streets, he or she will be sent to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Book says he has been taking the situation seriously. The green shirts have already reached out to more than 1,000 people since they began coronavirus-specific outreach missions earlier this month.
"I would not have had an all-hands-on-deck situation two and a half weeks ago if I had just thought this was just a virus or that it wouldn't have impacted one of the most vulnerable populations that society knows," Book says.
But for other local homeless outreach groups, it's been business as usual.
Frank Diaz, a pastor who ministers to homeless sex offenders, says he has not halted outreach operations through his organization, United We All Can. Diaz says many of his homeless clients already engage in social distancing and isolation practices.
"We know who they are; we see them on a daily basis," Diaz says. "We go there because we have a purpose to rescue and recover them."
United We All Can is reaching out to homeless communities all over Miami-Dade County, minus those downtown, where other homeless organizations are centralized.
In Miami Beach, Valerie Navarrete has been volunteering with the homeless for several years. Like Diaz, she says she will continue her outreach. Despite the challenge of finding essential products such as hand sanitizer, she says she will stop at nothing to raise awareness about and give aid to the homeless.
"We don't have a newspaper for the homeless or somewhere where they can get information, so they're depending on someone like the Homeless Trust and volunteers to give them that information," Navarrete says.
Across the county, shelters are taking precautions. Chapman Partnership has suspended all of its volunteer services. Camillus House is continuing operations but enforcing social distancing among clients, as directed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced more than $118 million in grants to aid local homeless assistance programs and its most vulnerable individuals and families; Florida is expected to receive more than $6.5 million in grants. A recent article by the Washington Post says HUD is finding ways to allow "maximum flexibility" for communities to use their grant money to curb the outbreak.
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Book says the Homeless Trust is in partnership with HUD but is not using HUD dollars for the pandemic yet.
"But that could change, because [now] everything is subject to some change," Book says.
The rest of the nation also is scrambling to help the homeless during the outbreak. The Hill reported Monday that California Gov. Gavin Newsom blocked off 400 hotel rooms in Oakland for the homeless moments after news of a homeless person in Santa Rosa County died of COVID-19. And Anchorage, Alaska, is transforming two of its arenas into mass shelters for homeless people, the Anchorage Daily News reports.
This story has been updated as more information has become available.