At the risk of jinxing her own success story, Homeless Services Director Liz Hersh reports that there have been no new cases in the shelter system in three weeks.
"We don’t take it for granted. It could change tomorrow, but as of this moment, it’s just an extraordinary testament to the caring and hard work and selflessness and perseverance of people in the face of this tremendous health threat," Hersh said.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, group settings were the biggest hot spots. Now they are some of the biggest success stories.
"The big takeaway is, everybody needs a place to live of their own. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if there weren’t people who are homeless in the first place," Hersh said.
Hersh says the system has served 5,600 people since March; there have been a total of 120 cases and one death.
"All of our providers have moved heaven and earth to make this happen. They’re extraordinarily dedicated," Hersh said.
Dozens of people have been provided quarantine and isolation space in center city hotels rented out for that purpose. Hersh says prevention steps are continuing — the usual steps, such as handwashing and masks, as well as reducing the number of beds to leave more space between people, and having quarantine and isolation space for people with a COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms and others who are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
"It’s all of those steps practiced, day in and day out, selflessly and diligently, that has gotten us this moment of respite," she said.
Advocates for the city's homeless population would still like to see more testing, including mandatory testing for people who are placed in shelters without quarantine space.
Hersh says everyone is screened for symptoms before entering a shelter, and testing is available for anyone who wants it.
"We’ve been screening everybody before they come in, temp checks, finding out if they have any of the symptoms and, if anybody does, getting them to medical care," she said.