AUSTIN, Texas - The Salvation Army shelter in downtown Austin is temporarily closed after 12 people staying there tested positive for COVID-19 Friday. Monday, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless had its first confirmed positive case.
Downtown Austin homeless shelters have been trying to do what they can to keep a COVID-19 outbreak from happening inside their doors.
Asking staff and clients to wear masks or bandanas, trying to separate people by at least six feet, spacing out beds, providing hand sanitizer and screening for symptoms are all part of that.
Still, Friday, the downtown Salvation Army shelter got hit hard.
“We had a couple of people who felt that they were ill and so we sent them to get tested. So, over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a couple tested and we had them quarantined. We had some isolated and then, unfortunately, we had about 12 test positive at one time,” said Major Lewis Reckline, Austin Area Commander for the Salvation Army.
Saturday, everyone staying at the shelter was moved into city-leased hotels while cleaning crews disinfect the facility.
“As we clean it we’re going to restructure a little bit to see how we can increase that social distancing, but we live in a community environment that there are big steps that we can take, but there are steps that they have to take and the two have to go hand-in-hand sometimes,” Reckline said.
Meanwhile, next door, the ARCH is dealing with their first confirmed positive case. That person and anyone identified to have come into contact with them have also been moved into isolation at hotels.
“We’re also sleeping fewer people at night now, partly because we’re not taking any new clients during this time and, secondly, because we have separated our sleeping by more than six feet,” said Greg McCormack, executive director of Front Steps, the nonprofit that manages the ARCH.
Those in charge of both shelters said the populations they serve are at high risk when it comes to coronavirus. “They’re around a lot of folks sometimes in these encampments, in close quarters, and have trouble isolating. Whereas, someone else who has a home might be able to isolate easier,” McCormack said.
“It’s a little scary, simply because they don’t have the ability to get the medical attention that all of us are able to get. So they live in a constant state of, probably a number of them, just poor health and so a virus like this is only going to cause that problem to escalate,” said Reckline.
Both shelters said they need more cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, N-95 masks and donations.
“Obviously, I mean, this is gonna cost us and this is something that’s not budgeted and so the financial impact that it’s going to have is going to be great,” Reckline said.
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