Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has been difficult in many facets of everyday life, and it’s more so for vulnerable populations, like the homeless.
Organizations working with Boston’s homeless population say they are continually discussing the outbreak and what can be done to help those staying on the streets, in shelters, or in supportive housing.
The Massachusetts Public Health Association announced Tuesday that it was putting together an Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity to focus on marginalized communities who could be highly impacted. This includes people of low-income and the homeless, and also immigrants, people of color, and those with disabilities.
The group plans to release its preliminary recommendations by next Friday, according to the MPHA.
“When we have both large-scale events and measures taken to mitigate these large-scale events, they have social and economic consequences that are felt by people who are poor and marginalized,” Sandro Galea, one of the group’s chairs who serves as Boston University’s School of Public Health dean and a professor, told BU Today. “Yes, we need social distancing, yes, we need to do the right things, but we need to be constantly cognizant that the people feeling those consequences are typically not those of us who are making those decisions.”
At Project Place, an organization that helps homeless and low-income people gain job skills and education, as well as support for finding a job and housing, programs are continuing, but with efforts to ensure that if classes can no longer be conducted in person, students are provided with a laptop to continue their work online. The organization is seeking donations to help with these efforts.
“It’s also ever evolving, as it is for everybody,” Suzanne Kenney, the organization’s executive director, told Boston.com. “And I would say that right now, what we did today is even different than what we did yesterday.”
Clients at Project Place are dependent on the organization, and many count on being able to visit its headquarters every day for its day program, she said.
“Today we are at a place where we have asked all visitors not to come to our building, that we want to limit access only to our clients and our staff,” Kenney said, noting that this will help limit contact.
Part of the work is also helping to quell the fears and worries of clients, and the anxiety of the unknown of what could happen, Kenney said. Case managers are checking in with clients daily, either by phone or email, if they are not on site.
Project Place also provides a daily lunch program, and that has been altered so that there are sandwiches available for clients. The organization also has two housing developments – 14 studio apartments above its headquarters, and 10 more transitional housing spaces for women at a second site. Residents have been equipped with disinfecting wipes. Those who live off site were given gift cards to buy things like hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
Pine Street Inn, which helps about 2,000 homeless men and women each day, provides roughly 2,700 meals, and has 670 beds in four different emergency shelters, has not yet experienced any cases of the virus within its community, according to an update posted to the organization’s Facebook page Wednesday afternoon.
“Pine Street is in the process of putting longer-term plans in place to screen and contain COVID-19 in the event that it spreads within our community,” the post says. “We will keep you updated on any new developments.”
Barbara Trevisan, the organization’s vice president of marketing and communications, said work on this plan was continuing on Thursday.
Beyond that, Pine Street Inn has hired a cleaning service to clean its buildings, and is asking any of its guests who may have symptoms to head directly to the organization’s clinic on site. Buildings are also being equipped with additional hand sanitizer.