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Coronavirus Update: Virtual Doctor Outreach Program Launched Tageting San Jose Homeless

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- A new mobile medical assessment program launched in San Jose on Friday, targeting the city's homeless population in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The program is run by WeHope, a non-profit homeless services organization, and features an RV, three staffers and a rotating cadre of doctors from Stanford Medical Center who will provide free medical assessments via video links from their offices.

While the project has been in the planning stages for the better part of a year, its launch was pushed up in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


"The homeless in encampments are terrified," said WeHope associate director Alicia Garcia. "They're terrified of dying out on the streets. They don't have access to information that the rest of us have."

In addition to providing general medical assessments, doctor referrals and prescription services, the physicians will be giving presentations about the COVID-19 disease, including advice on social distancing and sanitation.

"The doctors have presentations that they put together to explain to them what the virus is and how it spreads and what they can do to protect themselves," Garcia said.

Also, if patients are exhibiting symptoms, the doctors can facilitate a COVID-19 test, which are particularly hard to come by for homeless people, who often don't have regular contact with the health care system and are therefore less likely to get a proper diagnosis.

"We're starting off in encampments because many of the people have not seen a doctor in years," Garcia said. "Our intention is to get them some level of virtual assessment and also to encourage them to go see a regular doctor."

WeHope already operates a mobile laundry and shower program and at first the medical RV will accompany the "Dignity on Wheels" trailer during its regular six-days-a-week route to encampments, churches and social services sites around the city.

Both programs are operating with help from the city of San Jose, which provided $300,000 for two new vehicles from its share of the state's Homeless Emergency Aid Program, according to the city's Homelessness Response Manager Kelly Hemphill.

The RV staff—a driver, an intake specialist and a case manager—will all practice social distancing and will wear gloves and masks during their rounds, said WeHope President Pastor Paul Bains.

"The homeless brothers and sisters, they don't have information, they can't shelter in place, and many of them have lost their jobs that they did have because of the virus," Bains said.

WeHope also operates a 55-bed homeless shelter in East Palo Alto and has been able to find hotel rooms for 29 elderly and chronically ill homeless residents.

The organization also plans to open another shelter soon that has enough room for 10 additional beds.

On Monday, Santa Clara County officials announced that 13 homeless people had tested positive for COVID-19 and that each of those people had been placed in some kind of shelter.

Additionally, the county has found shelter for an additional 265 homeless residents and is operating all of its permanent and temporary shelters on a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week schedule.

It has also opened a temporary shelter at the county fairgrounds for 60 people and San Jose is using 105 trailers provided by state officials to temporarily house homeless people.

Santa Clara County officials reported in 2019 that there were 9,706 people experiencing homelessness in the county, a 31 percent increase from 2017 and the highest the number recorded in more than ten years.

Of that population, 6,097 homeless residents were living in San Jose.

"With this COVID-19 virus, the unsheltered homeless are terrified for their lives, so it's very important that we provide the necessary resources to keep them safe and give them peace of mind," Garcia said.  "That's why we're launching right now."


© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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