The DNR story “Hotels Used to Help Homeless Self-Isolate” (May 15, 2020) was full of inaccuracies. Below I address these issues.
The City Dept of Transportation is not involved in the hotel programs. The City provides funding for one hotel, where a handful of people during the last 6 weeks have been placed for 2-week periods and provided groceries weekly by DSS (Dept of Social Services). But the other hotel, which continually hosts about 20 people, is funded by HUD, through the governor’s office to local CoC agencies, and the fund is administered by Mercy House, which has put a tremendous amount of work into this project. Although the story gives large credit to the City and County for the hotel work with homeless persons, at the hotel where the folks high-risk health conditions stay, and included the people interviewed for this story, the City and County are not involved at all. The main agencies are the Suitcase Clinic, Open Doors, Mercy House, and Our Community Place, the last two of which were not even mentioned in the story. Our Community Place provides daily hot meals and about 20 hours of case management services to help people stay in place, apply for Medicaid, and access permanent housing resources. The Suitcase Clinic also visits daily and deals with medical issues and medications. The other main funding sources for this work has been The Community Foundation’s emergency fund and our donors, for whom we are all very grateful.
One of the couples interviewed apparently stated that the measures implemented in Harrisonburg (by the City and by the nonprofits at different hotels) have not been implemented in other places around the country. This is wholly inaccurate, as the same funding for hotels has gone to agencies all over the state, and virtually all states are providing similar programs.
Finally, the homeless are made to look like they are responsible for huge transmissions of the COVID-19 illness. For example, the Boston study cited accurately states that 146 shelter residents tested positive, but the author Munroe neglects to clarify that all of these folks were asymptomatic, not contagious. And since we don’t know how many in the general population in Boston are positive and asymptomatic, it is not clear if the homeless population is any different than the general population. In Harrisonburg, only about 6 homeless persons have tested positive, out of almost 600 residents who have tested positive, meaning the homeless population only comprises 1% of those who have contracted the illness, and none of the deaths, whereas people in nursing homes have had many deaths so far. In fact, the highest subgroup testing positive in Virginia as a whole are Latinos, who live and work in close quarters and are responsible for keeping our poultry plants running. Although only 7.6% of the state population, Latinos comprise 40% of those who have tested positive in the state. Thankfully, they tend to be young and middle aged, and so their percentage of deaths is very low, comprising only about 4% of deaths.