PORT TOWNSEND — Olympic Community Action Programs is changing how it shelters homeless residents in Jefferson County.
It will separate them at different locations, instead of placing homeless people together at the Winter Shelter at the American Legion Hall, to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19.
The housing plan is funded by a $345,000 state COVID-19 Outbreak Emergency Grant for the homeless, and it was approved by the Jefferson County Emergency Operations Center and Dr. Tom Locke, county public health officer.
Last week, Clallam County commissioners signed an emergency lease with the Port of Port Angeles for a homeless population quarantine and isolation site near William R. Fairchild Memorial Airport after receiving a $433,000 grant from the state Department of Commerce to provide housing during the public health emergency.
The grant funds can be used only to “address the quarantine and isolation needs for people experiencing homelessness and people who lack the ability to isolate at home, and for whom placement at a health care facility is inappropriate,” officials said.
OlyCAP is working with other community service organizations and will house its current shelter users at a variety of places, Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval said.
“This is for people who are currently being housed in the shelter to keep them safe and the community safe,” Sandoval said.
OlyCAP plans to implement the change starting Monday, said Cherish Cronmiller, executive director of OlyCAP.
Multiple locations and rooms will make it easier for OlyCAP to separate individuals and families to promote social distancing and maintaining supportive services and housing monitors, she said.
“The approved COVID-19 homeless service plan recognizes the need to decrease the likelihood of outbreak among the homeless, a most vulnerable population,” Cronmiller said.
“Under the plan, OlyCAP will also be able to isolate and tend for homeless people who have COVID-19, and quarantine homeless people who are sick but not yet diagnosed, or who have been exposed to coronavirus but are not yet sick.
“The plan protects the homeless population and also reduces transmission through the community at large,” Cronmiller said.
Each location will have an OlyCAP staff member on site monitoring the conditions and users, and it will have twice daily temperature and room checks, she said.
Cronmiller expects the arrangement to last at least 30 days. Individuals have to meet a criteria of not being able to isolate in a place with running water and be able to self-isolate without someone else needing to be monitoring them constantly.
OlyCAP case workers are familiar with the majority of the homeless population in the county, and when a new person arrives, they will vet where they came from and what help is needed, Cronmiller said.
Unsheltered individuals may be at a higher risk for severe disease than the general population because many are older adults and/or have underlying medical conditions, Cronmiller said, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Locke believes the plan is a needed change.
“All Jefferson County residents are at risk of COVID-19 infection,” Locke said. “We know that most people with the infection can be managed at home.
“For those without a home, we must urgently create shelter that meets the health standards for isolation and quarantine.
“I believe the current plan achieves these goals, assuring that homeless community members will be able to recover in a setting that meets their basic needs for shelter, sanitation and nutrition.”
Users will be provided three meals a day, but they will be delivered one-on-one instead of group meals to reduce gatherings.
OlyCAP is working with local restaurants, food trucks and caterers to supply the meals to support other local businesses with the plan, Cronmiller said.
So far there have been no confirmed cases among the 25 people who are staying at the congregate shelter at the Port Townsend American Legion.
The current demographic of the shelter is 18 men and seven women, of whom 10 are seniors and five have ambulatory issues.
Anyone who lacks sheltering options that include access to water for bathing and handwashing are asked to call OlyCAP at 360-385-2571, or visit www.olycap.org for links to assistance.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.