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Webinar looks at coronavirus, homelessness in Clark County

A Tuesday webinar examined homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic. Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said that as cases rise, certain populations — including those who are homeless — are at higher risk of contracting the virus.

Those without homes may not have personal protective equipment or health insurance if they get sick. Staying in a shelter with other people makes it more difficult to socially distance. And, people who are homeless are more likely to have pre-existing health problems such as diabetes or behavioral health issues.

“Loss of access to services and inadequate health care has impacted this population,” Melnick said.

During a question-and-answer session, he did not say how many homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s been a small number, fortunately,” he said.

Public Health and Community Services have worked together to provide guidance for service providers, make testing available to those experiencing homelessness and open a quarantine and isolation motel in east Vancouver. The 116-room former Motel 6 will remain open through the end of October. One building at the motel is used for quarantine and isolation while the other is used as emergency shelter for particularly vulnerable unhoused people, such as seniors and those with underlying health issues.

More than once early in the crisis, hospitals called about someone experiencing homelessness who was symptomatic, shouldn’t be in public and needed a place to go, said Michael Torres, community housing and development manager.

He said Community Services is submitting applications to the state Department of Commerce for more funding to prevent homelessness through rental assistance and to increase shelter capacity.

Kate Budd, executive director of Council for the Homeless, which hosted Tuesday’s webinar, said everyone is feeling anxious and stressed about COVID-19. For someone who’s homeless, that’s on top of the existing stress of living in a car, motel or outdoors.

Clients have said their ability to access basic needs is greatly restricted, and finding a place to be during the day is difficult. However, many groups are attempting to fill in the gap.

Another webinar, dealing with the upcoming end of a moratorium on evictions, is set for July 30.


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