Sacramento city and county leaders approved a $15 million joint plan on Tuesday to help prevent a coronavirus outbreak in the region’s homeless population.
The plan focuses on three things: Keeping existing homeless shelters safe; providing greater sanitation at homeless encampments; and paying for 1,100 motel rooms to isolate those infected or who are at risk.
Bruce Wagstaff, deputy county executive for Social Services, urged the Board of Supervisors to approve the document. In doing so, he relayed a colorful warning from the county’s Health Director Dr. Peter Beilenson.
“If you don’t get a handle on this homeless population, as Mr. Bielenson says using a medical term, ‘We’ll get hammered,’” Wagstaff said.
Both the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and Sacramento City Council approved the plan in unanimous votes.
“We are in lockstep with the county,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a news release.
The Council will come back within two weeks “to begin hammering out a plan to rehouse people longer-term so they don’t wind up back on the street after their stay in an emergency unit is over,” the release added.
Wagstaff said homeless people who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be given top priority for the “isolation sites.”
“The first priority is going to be those who are sick and who can spread the virus if we don’t put them in a location and put them there quickly,” he said.
The next consideration will go to those who are presumed positive and are awaiting test results, along with those who have been exposed to people who tested positive, the county official said.
Also high on the priority list are people who are homeless and 65 or older with pre-existing conditions, those 65 and older with no pre-existing conditions and those under 65 with pre-existing conditions, Wagstaff said.
Staff at homeless shelters will refer individuals for isolation. Other referrals will come from the county’s healthcare partners, outreach navigators, the Sheriff’s Department’s Homeless Outreach Team and corrections staff.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, called the plan “a good start,” but said officials should have passed a plan weeks ago. He said he’s concerned the document doesn’t spell out how individuals will be transported to the isolation sites.
“They don’t have a way to get them there. That was pretty shocking,” he said.
The document calls for on-site private security and medical providers.
Wagstaff said not all 1,100 motel rooms available to the county would be used at once. The county will first use a 116-room motel and gradually expand after that. He added that the first individuals could be moved into rooms on Thursday.
Meanwhile, dozens of trailers and sanitation supplies continue to arrive at Cal Expo for homeless people. Wagstaff said the first occupants there could move in on Friday.
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