COLUMBUS — Ohio is starting a new effort to focus on the collision of two public health crises: coronavirus and homelessness.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced the creation of a new task force that will examine how to best help homeless programs that are struggling to meet local, state and federal guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus.
According to research from the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, roughly 10,000 Ohioans are living in shelters and cannot abide by the state's stay-at-home order. Barbara Poppe, former executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, co-authored the report.
"Congregate shelters are not set up to support social distancing, and people who are unsheltered lack access to proper hygiene and sanitation and must go out into the community to get their basic needs met and will come in frequent contact with other people," Poppe said.
The report also found 87 percent of regional homeless systems lack sufficient space to isolate and quarantine clients who show symptoms of COVID-19, and 79 percent are unable to provide the financial assistance necessary to reduce admissions and minimize overcrowding in shelters.
The governor called on Ohio communities to include homeless shelters in their social-distancing planning.
Jessica Jenkins administers the local homeless system for Montgomery County, where she said area shelters are struggling to maintain staff levels to continue operating during the crisis. She said there's a lot of fear and uncertainty.
"There's a lot of anxiety both among providers about not feeling prepared and equipped to respond, as well as, of course, the natural anxieties of our sheltered guests that are in congregate spaces that make it challenging to have the pockets of social and physical distancing," Jenkins said.
The federal coronavirus package included $4 billion for homeless programs, and advocates in Ohio are asking state lawmakers to appropriate $20 million for emergency homeless services.
— The story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.