COVID-19 risk is targeted with handwashing stations. Photo via County News Center

After an emergency meeting of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, city and county leaders announced Wednesday that San Diego will partner with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to respond to the needs of the homeless amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The task force requested assistance from HUD in developing plans to address coronavirus — known as COVID-19 — and support service providers working with shelters, supportive housing and San Diego’s homeless population.

“It is significant that we have the support at the federal level and we are bringing best practices from across the country to San Diego to help us mitigate the spread of COVID-19 amongst individuals experiencing homelessness,” said Tamera Kohler, CEO of Regional Task Force on the Homeless. “We are using an approach of compassion. We are sharing information in an equitable way.”

San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency announced Monday it had placed hand-washing stations in more than 80 locations around the county to help people experiencing homelessness have a way to improve hygiene and prevent spread of the respiratory illness. It also announced it was sending outreach teams to places with a high unsheltered population to provide information about COVID-19 and hygiene kits.

The HHSA also began sending public health nurses to San Diego’s bridge shelters to conduct screenings for respiratory issues. Lastly, the county has been scoping out sites for a potential quarantine area should the need arise.

“Individuals experiencing homelessness deserve the same care, compassion and information about COVID-19 as everyone else. We are aggressively working to make sure that happens,” said county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “We want San Diegans to know that our region is working together and coordinated in our response managing the spread of COVID-19 and we take seriously our obligation to protect our most vulnerable, including homeless individuals.”

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless has been working with homeless service providers to educate and monitor for any potential cases and is forming a working group on COVID-19 to meet regularly and assess the needs of the community.

“Today’s meeting continues the planning efforts that the city, county and the Regional Task Force on the Homeless have been engaging in this past month to protect our unsheltered population,” said San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward, who serves as chair of the task force. “The information and perspectives shared today will help us most effectively deploy resources to homeless service providers and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

The city of San Diego has committed to increase the sanitizing of shelters and public restrooms and is coordinating closely with the county, regional task force and providers on region-wide efforts.

“Protecting the health of all San Diegans is our top priority, including those living outdoors and in shelters,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “Regional leaders and stakeholders on homelessness met today to ensure that we are taking action now to prevent the spread of COVID-19, by enacting contingency plans, preparedness efforts and public information campaigns to reduce the spread of the virus. I ask all San Diegans to continue to follow the advice and common-sense hygiene recommendations of the county’s public health professionals.”

— City News Service

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