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Dedicated City Staff and Partners Aim to Help Homeless Fight Spread of COVID-19

Mayor Keller, Family and Community Services, community partners provide housing, testing, resources to vulnerable population

April 15, 2020

24/7 shelter access, coronavirus screening and testing, medical services, emergency motel vouchers, and targeted outreach to people living in camps and on the street are just a handful of the ways the Keller administration and its partners are engaging the homeless community to slow the spread of coronavirus and help save lives. At today’s daily briefing on coronavirus response, Mayor Keller was joined by Family and Community Services leaders and the City’s dedicated Westside Emergency Housing Center Medical Director Dr. Laura Parajon to highlight efforts to help one of the most vulnerable populations.

“We’ve made tackling homelessness a major priority—and we know that’s a priority shared by this city. But our homeless population has never been more vulnerable, so we are stepping up in new ways to provide the core medical care, shelter, and coronavirus testing we know can make a difference,” said Mayor Keller. “We can’t do it alone, so we’re also asking the community to join us, and help take this challenge on as One Albuquerque by donating to fund a housing voucher for a homeless person or family today.”

The Westside Emergency Housing Center (WEHC) is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure a safe and clean space where homeless people can go to get off the streets and access resources to protect their health. Food and hot showers are available, as is medical care, thanks to City partnerships with the Medical Reserve Corps, UNM Health Sciences Center, First Nations Community HealthSource, and Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless.

Every individual who utilizes the shelter is screened for coronavirus symptoms, and special procedures are in place to keep people safe, including limiting the number of people per pod to ensure at least six feet of personal space at all times, no sleeping in bunk beds, and regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. The WEHC is also operating as a COVID-19 testing site, with isolation pods set up to keep those awaiting results separate from the rest of the shelter’s residents. Since March 17th, 40 individuals experiencing homelessness have been tested both at the shelter and at other locations, with no positives.

Dr. Laura Parajon, WEHC’s Medical Director, said, “The City and our partners are working every day to provide the best possible care and take every precaution to slow the spread of coronavirus, especially among the vulnerable homeless population. The providers stepping up to be part of the solution and the dedicated staff at the City are making a difference, and helping mitigate what we’ve already seen in other cities.”

Staff at the shelter are using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and healthcare providers caring for those awaiting results in isolation pods are using technology including iPads to communicate with other staff, reducing the need to continually throw out and re-equip PPE.

On streets and in encampments around the City, City workers and partners like Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless are engaged in daily outreach to the community, talking with people about the pandemic, best practices to stay healthy, and resources to get off the streets.

The City also continues to focus on housing, the fastest and most affordable way to combat homelessness. In FY 2020, the City funded housing vouchers that helped 860 individuals or families get off the streets, and funding for emergency motel vouchers is being used to get the most vulnerable homeless—those who have coronavirus symptoms and are awaiting test results—off the streets temporarily while the pandemic climbs toward its peak.

“We know the best way to get folks off the streets and connected to resources is to get them housing first,” said Lisa Huval, FCS Deputy Director for Housing and Homelessness. “Especially now, the more housing vouchers we can put to good use, the safer our homeless population will be through this pandemic.”

The One Albuquerque Fund, which has already contributed $60,000 this year to housing vouchers, continues to raise funds to get families and individuals a safe place to stay. Donors can specify that their contribution is for housing vouchers. Find out more at www.onealbuquerque.org.

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Emergencies challenge the delivery and management of emergency public information, warning and emergency protective action notifications. The Albuquerque Joint Information Center (JIC) functions as a coordinated Albuquerque Metro Area public information system that will gather and analyze data related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in New Mexico and serve as a source of accurate and comprehensive information.