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Health, Science, Environment

St. Louis-Area Providers Of Homeless Services Brace For Coronavirus

St. Patrick Center is a hub for homeless services in downtown St. Louis City and now it is scrambling to prepare for possible COVID-19 cases within the homeless population. 3/19/20
St. Patrick Center
St. Patrick Center serves as a hub for homeless services in downtown St. Louis, and now it is scrambling to prepare for possible COVID-19 cases within the homeless population.

Where do you self-quarantine if you don’t have a home? 

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus, homeless shelters have needed to put emergency quarantine plans and additional safety measures in place.

Nearly 2,000 people in St. Louis and St. Louis County experience homelessness. 

Anthony D'Agostino, CEO of the St. Patrick Center, the leading hub for homeless services in St. Louis, said the center will remain open.

“Unlike some offices, we can't just close the doors,” he said. “We're working with unhoused individuals, people coming in who rely on our services.”

Unhoused veterans and people with chronic illnesses and mental health issues rely on St. Patrick Center and local shelters’ services. 

Yusef Scoggin, director of the Family & Community Services office for St. Louis County, said all of the county’s homeless shelters will continue to operate. In addition, the Salvation Army’s seasonal shelter, which was set to close March 13, will remain open indefinitely. 

Emergency quarantine plans

Several shelters are limiting the number of people they can accommodate to adhere to social distancing guidelines. As a result, leaders are looking at hotels or empty dormitories to quarantine and house people. 

D’Agostino said the St. Patrick Center does not have space to quarantine more than a dozen individuals, “if and when” COVID-19 infects a person who is homeless. 

Homeless populations are already at higher risk for disease, although there is no existing data showing that COVID-19 spreads faster among unhoused individuals. 

Already this month, St. Patrick Center has gone $100,000 over budget preparing for COVID-19, putting the center in the red, D'Agostino said. 

“It's just we have had very little runway to actually get prepared,” he said. “I don't think anyone is prepared.”

St. Louis County has a much larger capacity, with a facility to house and quarantine 100 people with suspected cases of coronavirus and 100 with confirmed cases of coronavirus. 

“We believe based upon what we have seen from our public health department, we will have adequate quarantining locations,” he said. 

Scoggin said he is working with the county health department now to secure medical staff for the facilities, but they would only be there to monitor and treat symptoms, not provide hospital-level services.

Additional safety measures

The city has added 10 public handwashing stations in high-traffic areas for people without access to running water.

Below are maps of the stations:

Map of public hand washing stations for people who are homeless during the closures caused by coronavirus. 3/19/20
Credit Kayla Drake

Map of public hand washing stations for people who are homeless during the closures caused by coronavirus. 3/19/20
Credit Kayla Drake

Scoggin said the county has not added public handwashing stations because only 6% of St. Louis County’s unsheltered individuals are “street homeless.” By contrast, in St. Louis there are pockets of people who do actually live on the streets.

D’Agostino said he is trying to secure funding for Porta Potties and outdoor showers in vans from the Department of Human Services for St. Louis City. 

Social distancing challenges

D'Agostino said the center is having a hard time keeping people from congregating outside the St. Patrick Center. 

The center’s shelters are set up so people can gather, but that causes an issue now that both the city and county have banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

The centers serves 300 meals a day. Now, instead of people sitting down and eating in one large group, the center is giving out sack lunches in shifts. Other shelters, like Peter and Paul Community Services, are, as well. 

D'Agostino said that the center is cleaning four times more often in high-traffic areas and that he is utilizing a “skeleton staff,” so some of his 150 workers can go home for child care or sick leave. 

The St. Patrick Center is receiving three times the calls that it usually does, with most about COVID-19, D'Agostino said. 

Shelter updates

  • Peter and Paul Community Services is cutting its capacity by half to accommodate social distancing, D'Agostino said.
  • The St. Patrick Center Women’s Night Program is at capacity and is not adding overflow beds. 
  • Gateway 180 will not fill to capacity and will leave 25 spots open, D'Agostino said. He also said that Gateway is the only shelter in the city still accepting people. 
  • All county shelters are still accepting people, which includes Salvation Army Family Haven, its seasonal shelter and Loaves & Fishes for St. Louis, Scoggin said. 

Correction: Peter and Paul Community Services will be changing its Soulard Shelter from overnight only to operating 24/7. The shelter will continue to serve meals. The CEO Steven Campbell said the shelter will reevaluate on April 3 to see if it should return to regular operating hours.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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