The Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services this week will begin transporting homeless people age 62 and older from the city’s three emergency shelters to motels to protect them against COVID-19, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Monday.
The move came after a group of homeless and housing advocacy organizations earlier today called on Young to relocate people experiencing homelessness to hotel rooms and other housing options due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in shelters.
The city will move 150 homeless individuals age 62 and older from the city’s three emergency shelters to motels. The city will also relocate the remaining residents of the Monument Street Shelter to “a larger and more suitable location to allow for social distancing,” the statement said.
Jerrianne Anthony, director of MOHS, said the relocation effort will help protect homeless individuals from COVID-19.
“We continue to work with our non-profit partners to provide safe lodging and support for all of our homeless clients,” Anthony said.
On March 20, the city began transporting homeless individuals to a motel for isolation while they awaited test results for COVID-19. To date, that isolation location has served 56 people experiencing homelessness or living in congregate settings, city officials said in a statement.
Housing Our Neighbors, a homeless-led grassroots organization, and the Fair Development Roundtable, a coalition of organizations advocating for housing resources, on Monday renewed their push for protections for Baltimore’s homeless population after releasing an open letter to Young, City Council President Brandon Scott and Gov. Larry Hogan on March 18.
The Fair Development Roundtable said in a statement that while the city’s latest action in protecting Baltimore’s homeless residents is a start, there is still more that needs to be done.
“We are glad to see the Mayor’s office is beginning to take a step in the right direction providing hotel rooms for some shelter residents,” the coalition said. “The Mayor must step up and commit to protecting all homeless in shelters and encampments. Everyone is at risk from the COVID-19 crisis and all are in need of safe housing.”
The letter from March 18, which has garnered more than 930 signatures, called on state and local officials to move individuals from emergency shelters and homeless encampments to hotel rooms, permanent housing and permanent supportive housing for those who choose.
It also called for more resources to prevent evictions, such as emergency rental assistance and energy and utility assistance; mortgage forgiveness; and an expansion of feeding programs.
Last month, Hogan prohibited evictions during the state of emergency.
Meanwhile, Baltimore City has created a map of where people can get free food at food distribution sites located at recreation centers, schools and senior centers.
On March 25, Young released a COVID-19 emergency response plan to mitigate the effects of the new coronavirus on people experiencing homelessness.
The plan included procedures for how shelters should assess residents for COVID-19 symptoms, transport them for testing and discharge them while they are awaiting test results.
Homeless outreach teams are also providing hygiene products, water, food, and guidance on COVID-19 and available community resources to people experiencing homelessness, according to the plan.
The plan also calls for a temporary shelter where people experiencing homelessness can socially distance themselves from others.
But homeless and housing advocates are continuing to push for more resources to protect homeless individuals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maryland Department of Health, and other health experts have all recommended that people stay home as much as possible and, when absolutely necessary for them to go out, that they remain at least six feet apart from one another to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Rachel Kutler, a member of Housing Our Neighbors, told Baltimore Fishbowl that the social distancing shelter the city set up is just more congregate living and “it falls short” of what Baltimore’s homeless population needs.
In congregate living, Kutler said there are many high-use surfaces and people living there are not able to maintain adequate social distance.
Relocating homeless individuals to hotel rooms and other housing options will allow the greater separation between people that is needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Kutler said.
“We’re urging the mayor to make a public commitment to these hotel rooms now, because every day that goes by while folks are still living in congregate living is putting their lives at risk and the community’s lives at risk,” she said.
Dr. Gwen Dubois, president of the Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and a specialist in internal medicine, said in a statement Monday that people experiencing homelessness had a higher mortality rate than people with housing even before COVID-19.
With the pandemic underway, homeless individuals do not have the resources to follow many of the guidance from health experts to limit the contraction and spread of the coronavirus, Dubois said.
“Now with this terrible pandemic we are asked to wash our hands often, physical distancing, abide by stay at home orders. None of this can be done by the homeless,” she said.
Subsequently, the homeless are at a “very high risk” of becoming infected with COVID-19 and needing to be hospitalized, Dubois said.
“Many will die unless we intervene,” she said.
Kutler said there is also still room for improvement with the food distribution sites.
“There’s still areas all over the city where kids have to walk over a mile to get access to the grab-and-go meals, so I know there’s still a need to open up additional sites,” she said.
This story has been updated.