The Shelter & Care Task Force was established to oversee homeless services during the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on minimizing the spread of the disease by isolating sick and vulnerable individuals and supplementing existing services impacted by the outbreak. Led by the Santa Cruz County Department of Human Services, the task force consists of staff from the County and cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville, as well as community-based organizations’ experts.
The County of Santa Cruz (County) COVID-19 Homeless Response, which is managed by the Shelter & Care Task Force, supports the overall County Public Health response and is consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommendations for people experiencing homelessness. The County’s COVID-19 Homeless Response is in direct alignment with, and in support of, the following COVID-19 public health objectives:
- Minimize deaths in the community
- Prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through physical distancing while providing essential safety net services
- Provide accurate and timely information to all providers and the public
Based on CDC guidelines, the County’s Homeless Response prioritizes individuals experiencing homelessness who are known or presumed to be COVID-positive but do not require hospitalization, as well as those with high-risk factors who face increased risk of mortality from COVID-19.
The County’s Homeless Response also aligns with the CDC and CDPH recommendations to not clear encampments unless individual housing units are available. Instead, the CDC and CDPH recommend that if clients are asymptomatic, communities should continue providing outreach services (screening, food, hygiene) and ensure that recommended physical distancing is maintained where individuals experiencing homelessness are located, including encampments.
4-PART RESPONSE PLAN
Aligned with County, State and CDC priorities and recommendations:
Isolation/Quarantine Shelters: Isolation/Quarantine Shelters provide private rooms in local hotels to enable people experiencing homelessness who are confirmed or presumed COVID-19 positive to isolate. When available, these shelters are also provided to persons experiencing homelessness who are considered COVID-19 vulnerable based on their age or health issues.
Homeless Services providers, outreach workers, health providers, and other agencies make referrals to these shelters. Participants are provided transportation, a private room, three meals a day, snacks and laundry service. The shelters have staff on-site 24 hours, seven days a week. Public health nurses are regularly on site to address health needs.
The prioritization for the Isolation/Quarantine Shelters is as follows:
- Priority 1: Confirmed C OVID-19 cases.
- Priority 2: Presumed COVID-19 cases (they have symptoms and have been in close contact with a person who tested positive).
- Priority 3: Persons that public health would advise to self-quarantine because one of the following are true: person has COVID-19 symptoms OR person had close contact with COVID-19 positive individuals.
- Priority 4: Persons experiencing homelessness who are age 65 or older and/or medically vulnerable, including persons with chronic health or respiratory issues.
Expanded Shelters: The County is developing expanded congregate shelter opportunities to enable persons experiencing homelessness who have no COVID-19 symptoms to be able to shelter in place. Expanded shelters are open 24/7. Shelter participants are provided a tent, cot and/or sleeping bags, three meals a day, snacks, 24-hour staffing to provide support, showers, and a variety of entertainment options. Participants may leave for essential travel but are subject to safety protocols upon return.
Expanded Shelter locations include the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Cruz, the Veterans Hall in Watsonville and the Expanded Armory space at DeLaveaga Park in Santa Cruz. Additional expanded shelter sites are in development.
The prioritization for the Expanded Shelters is as follows:
- Priority 1: Persons leaving an Isolation/Quarantine Shelter because they were COVID-19 positive but have recovered.
- Priority 2: Persons designated Isolation/Quarantine Shelter Priority 4, including people age 65 and over and/or who are considered medically vulnerable.
- Priority 3: All other persons living unsheltered.
- Existing Shelters: The County has been working closely with existing shelters to help implement appropriate hygiene practices and physical distancing. County Health Services Agency staff regularly visit the shelters to assist with configuring the shelters to provide shelter-in-place for participants, including safe distancing in sleeping and public areas, implementing recommended hygiene practices, and assisting the shelters and participants with individualized health issues.
Homeless Outreach and Service Sites (HOSS): The HOSS strategy uses a three-part approach to engage with persons living unsheltered.
In addition, the Shelter & Care Task Force utilizes a strategy called HOSS+ that assists persons living encampments, such as the Benchlands and the Coral Street areas in Santa Cruz. HOSS+ services facilitate physical distancing and include the provision of outreach, hygiene facilities, health services, food and other basic needs that support safe shelter-in-place policies.
- Implementation of HOSS in physical proximity to where persons are living unsheltered or receive services. HOSS provides persons living unsheltered with resources including information, hygiene products, water and camping supplies, as well as limited health and other services. Three HOSS have been implemented, two in Santa Cruz and one in Watsonville. HOSS services are provided twice a week.
- Traditional outreach activities, implemented in conjunction with HOSS. Outreach teams bring information and resources to where people are living outside to facilitate sheltering-in-place. Outreach workers also assist by configuring camp sites to facilitate physical distancing and otherwise implement recommendations to help prevent COVID-19 transmission.
- Information and resources are provided at fixed sites that are already doing outreach in the community, such as at the Footbridge Services Center and Loaves and Fishes. This effort is intended to facilitate people living unsheltered to shelter-in-place, while accessing needed resources.
Federal, state and local government funds are all being brought to bear on the crisis. Additionally, local community organizations have expanded services with community donations.
Visit www.HomelessActionPartnership.org for additional information, including weekly updates and more.