An annual count of homeless people in the Washington region tallied the fewest number of individuals sleeping outdoors or in emergency or transitional shelters since the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments began the exercise in 2001”(Washington Post 6/11/20). The annual survey, a one-night snapshot conducted on 1/22/20 showed 6,380 people homeless in DC, 141 fewer than in 2019. The number of DC homeless has been dropping steadily since 2016 but this trend will unfortunately suffer a severe reversal as the effects of the increased unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic shut down. The Washington Post 6/15/20 writes “Homelessness crisis expected in DC when Coronavirus emergency ends and evictions begin.” Just about the time DC is coming out of the coronavirus crisis, it will face a new one over homelessness, housing experts warn. Thousands of tenants who recently lost their jobs because of the pandemic shutdown can no longer afford to pay their rent or will soon lack the money to do so. They’re able to stay in their homes for now because of an emergency moratorium on evictions. But the ban ends 60 days after Mayor Muriel E. Bowser lifts the public health emergency, and evictions are likely to surge, according to officials and advocates for tenants.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the lives on thousands of DC residents with homeless population being most severely impacted. In lieu of this health emergency, UPO Shelter Hotline continued to provide essential services to our homeless clients across the District
- On-demand transportation of unsheltered clients to available shelter, operators conducted COVID-19 screening prior to each transport.
- Fulfilled special transportation requests/projects including transport of vulnerable clients, due to age and medical conditions, from shelters to medical respite, dialysis appointments and transport of clients from isolation/quarantine sites to shelter (after cleared of COVID-19)
- Engaged in daily street outreach efforts such as wellness checks, safety checks, distributed hundreds of meals, beverages, comfort items as well as personal protective equipment masks/gloves (PPE), while educating homeless consumers about safety, social distancing and available resources.
- Increased partnership with others homeless providers, particularly with coordinated outreaches, to provide support and fill gaps in services
Shelter Hotline remains on modified operations status, while continuing to provide essential services to homeless individuals and families across the District. Since, transportation activities decreased over the last 3 months, Shelter Hotline have been focusing much more effort on outreach services to address needs of un-sheltered clients in the streets, encampment and other places. We are distributing an average of 150 meals and water per day, along with comfort and PPE items to the homeless daily. We are supporting special projects such as transporting clients to cooling centers (during extreme heat), shower site, moving clients to other low barrier shelters (when shelters close down). Our phone operators/dispatchers obtain hourly count of beds available from all shelters, make referrals to available shelters as well as track turn away of homeless clients (in order to assist DHS/Contract Funder justify the need to more shelter space). Presently, we are preparing for Re-opening DC as well as the upcoming Hyperthermia Season.
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Shelter Hotline implemented a Modified Operations Protocol, which included several precautionary guidance in order to prevent and minimize risk of exposure to staff and clients served: ceased all morning and evening scheduled runs as of March 16, 2020 to the present; provided “On Demand” transportation to shelters; continued to conduct outreach services safety and wellness checks, food distributions, supplied comfort items, educated consumers; social distancing and protection precautions taken when transporting clients; limited the number of passengers picked up and transported per trip: 3 passengers per 15 passenger vehicle, 5 passengers per 25 passenger vehicle, 3 passengers per ADA vehicle; supported special request projects, served as distribution hub for other homeless providers and filled gaps in services to meet the needs of homeless clients.
Phone operator/dispatchers conduct COVID-19 screening for each homeless person requesting transport- before dispatching drivers to transport. Drivers have clients sit at least 2 seats back from the driver for social distancing and provide masks, gloves and sanitizing disinfectant items to on-boarding clients and are expected to use hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, spray, gloves and masks. Drivers are expected to sanitize/disinfect vehicles after each “On Demand” transport. A professional cleaning service thoroughly cleans and sanitizes vehicles 3 times per week. We are currently working on outfitting our entire fleet of vehicles with Commercial Transportation Plastic Protection Screens. There have been no report of Shelter Hotline staff contracting COVID-19 virus during the line of duty nor any deaths – since the beginning of the pandemic.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a “Shelter –in Place Order” was issued across the shelter systems. Clients who are already in congregant shelters are required to remain in the same shelters on a 24 hour basis, with meals, social and healthcare services provided in the shelter (Unity Health Care provides COVID-19 screening/health services). Client in shelters who becomes symptomatic for COVID-19 or had been exposed, may be asymptomatic, are transported via DHS designated transport, not by UPO Shelter Hotline, to isolation or quarantine sites for future testing/treatment. There are an additional three isolation/quarantine sites and two Pandemic Emergency Program for Highly Vulnerable Individuals (PEP-V) facilities – all hotels designed for the protection of clients in low barrier shelters. Testing for COVID-19 is ongoing at each shelter and there is a weekly DHS Provider Update Conference Call to provide update on findings regarding impact of COVID-19 shelter system.
The UPO Shelter Hotline Team have shown incredible commitment and resiliency in meeting needs of the homeless as demonstrated by “Above and Beyond” services in the wake of and during the COVID-19 pandemic – and continuing to do so. We remain intentional about prioritizing the safety of our staff as well as our clients. Partnering with other homeless providers as well as the faith-based community have increased our capacity and strengthened our reputation across the District.
Please join us in our ongoing efforts on behalf of the DC Homeless by making a generous gift to Help UPO Help the DC Homeless. Your support will provide funding for the much needed care packages, water, food trays and protective clothing we distribute, so greatly appreciated by our Homeless DC residents. With the anticipated spike in the number of DC Homeless this need will continue to grow.