Addressing COVID-19 in the Homeless Community

Last content update: 6/12/2020

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The County of Santa Clara, City of San José, and Continuum of Care partners have been working together to address the needs of homeless individuals affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak locally.

Expanding Temporary Shelter & Interim Housing Capacity

Since the last update, we’ve continued to make meaningful progress to add hundreds of additional shelter beds, hotel rooms and other non-congregate units to our temporary shelter and interim housing inventory:  

Since the crisis began, the County and City have added a total of 1,094 new units/beds to their temporary shelter inventory. This includes dozens of hotel and motel rooms booked by the County and new congregate shelters supported by the City of San José and the County. Altogether, our temporary shelter inventory includes:

  • 739 non-congregate units (motel/hotel rooms) across 13 sites in seven cities (Campbell, Gilroy, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale);
  • 275 temporary shelter beds at Gateway Pavilion at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, Parkside Hall and South Hall in Downtown San José, and a family shelter at Camden Community Center.

Another 363 beds/units are in the process of being made available for occupancy. 

In addition, the City has broken ground on emergency interim housing. Three emergency interim housing communities will be built, providing housing for approximately 348 individuals. The first of these communities is expected to be complete in late June.

Utilization rates for these temporary housing units and shelter beds remain high. In particular, 508 of the 651 (78%) available non-congregate units were occupied as of June 9. 

Assisting Homeless Individuals In Need of Shelter 

The County’s Emergency Operations Center established the Joint Departmental Operations Center to operationalize new temporary shelter programs, oversee daily temporary shelter placements and enhance coordination between County departments, the City of San Jose and partner agencies. 

This effort has included the creation of a hotline, operated Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., to facilitate temporary shelter placements. Thanks to the effort of the Joint Departmental Operations Center, every call to the hotline is returned and all individuals who are located are offered a referral to congregate or non-congregate shelter. While many individuals referred to the hotline cannot be located or decline the placement offered to them, no unhoused individual has been turned away. COVID-19 sheltering placements are made seven days a week.

As of June 9, 1,421 homeless individuals have been connected to appropriate congregate or non-congregate shelter since the start of this crisis. The majority of these individuals have been connected to non-congregate shelter, with the priority being homeless individuals who:

  • have tested positive for COVID-19;
  • have confirmed exposure or are under investigation for COVID-19; or
  • are at greater risk for serious illness or death should they contract COVID-19 due to age or underlying health conditions.

Steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless community

The City, County and partners have also taken many actions to help those in encampments. This includes the City’s pilot meal-delivery program at two encampments, which has provided over 5,400 meals to individuals who have had difficulty accessing food and water. 

In addition, we have continued to perform the following activities to assist those living in encampments during this crisis: 

Suspending abatements of homeless encampments to avoid unintentionally placing people at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19;

  • Placing hygiene equipment such as handwashing stations and portable toilets at large homeless encampments to help slow the spread of COVID-19;
  • Arranging for garbage collection at large homeless encampments to help maintain sanitary conditions;
  • Providing information in multiple languages to homeless individuals in shelters, on the streets, and in encampments to help them understand how they can protect themselves from COVID-19;
  • Working with Valley Homeless Healthcare Program (VHHP) to identify older homeless individuals with chronic health conditions who should be sheltered or isolated;
  • Providing 200 solar phone chargers to unhoused individuals that were distributed with the help of street outreach teams, volunteers and nonprofits;
  • Providing funding for tents, tarps and other supplies to assist those living in encampments to implement social distancing;
  • Project WeHope, in partnership with the City, launched "Hope Health Mobile." The new mobile rest stop travels with its Dignity on Wheels shower and laundry trailers offering WiFi, charging stations, case management, and virtual access to Stanford doctors who can answer questions about COVID-19. 

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading among homeless individuals staying in local shelters, the County and City have worked with their non-profit shelter providers to implement social distancing and other preventative measures.


Outreach to Homeless Individuals

The County has tapped Valley Homeless Healthcare Program (VHHP) and Gardner Health Services, non-profit partners, with identifying homeless individuals who have multiple underlying health conditions identified by the CDC that make them at high risk if they were to contract COVID-19. We have prioritized sheltering these at-risk individuals. Additionally, medical providers go to encampments, shelters and community-based organizations multiple times per week throughout the City and County to share information about COVID-19 and provide medical care.

VHHP is now providing mass asymptomatic COVID-19 swabbing for the homeless community at all congregate sites. This includes all shelters, safe parking sites and encampments of 10 or more people. The testing will be administered monthly at all sites.

The City and County also have a group of volunteers who are already concerned and invested in assisting people who are homeless. We have tasked our volunteer partners with sharing information about COVID-19 along with distributing hand sanitizer and protective equipment to the unsheltered.

The local response is evolving rapidly with more sites identified and more rooms becoming available and booked. See the City of San José Homelessness Response Resources​ for more information.

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