OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak began, health officials have feared what would happen if it became entrenched in the homeless population. On Monday, Oakland officials unveiled their strategy for trying to prevent that from happening.
Two hotels just off Hegenberger Road near the Oakland Coliseum -- The Comfort Inn and Radisson Hotel -- have both been leased to provide housing for homeless people who need to be quarantined due to the Coronavirus. State officials secured the two hotels last week and have selected a group called Abode Services to provide case management, security and food services.
"This is actually really exciting," said Lori Cox, Alameda County's Social Services Agency Director. "In a very, very short period of time, we were able to get two hotels up and running for those who are unsheltered on the street; who are either at risk of or who have tested positive for COVID-19."
Where to place those at risk has been the big dilemma when it comes to the unsheltered. There is no home for them to be sent to when symptoms are too mild for a patient to occupy a precious hospital bed.
"You know, the rest of us can self-isolate in our own homes," said Abode Services COO Vivian Wan. "And that's just not an option for the people living on the street. And even not an option for many that are living in our shelter environments, which is a congregate living setting."
That was the situation for the first individual relocated to the new hotels according to Damon Francis, Medical Director of Homeless Services for Alameda Health System.
"One of our homeless outreach street teams and one of our homeless clinics identified someone who had symptoms and was unable to go into a homeless shelter; because there was a risk of that person infecting other folks in the shelter," said Francisco. "[They] needed a place to stay where they could recover and not infect other people."
Providing a place to recover is the mission of the new homeless facilities. Whether the hotels' function should change in the weeks and months ahead will depend on whatever new turns the outbreak might take.
The two hotels will provide 393 rooms for unsheltered people exposed to COVID-19. Last week, Governor Newsom announced that 901 hotels have been identified statewide as possible sites for that purpose.
Setting up these sites in the Bay Area and across the state is a first step. But it is also an acknowledgement that -- if California is ever going to get the coronavirus under control -- caring for the homeless is going to have to be part of the strategy.
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