Homeless population in Philadelphia concerned spread of COVID-19

The homeless population in Philadelphia is worried about the spread of COVID-19.

"I only know what I’ve been reading in the newspaper and stuff," said Tim Brennan. He was reading the headlines when FOX 29's Shawnette Wilson0 talked to him near Broad and Walnut Thursday evening where he sleeps and panhandles.

"All of us that are on the street are worried about it," he said. Brennan says the main things to help curb the spread of the coronavirus like handwashing, self-quarantine and avoiding close proximity to others are impossible for people in his situation.

"Most of us that are on the street we're all kind of stuck," he said. Despite most businesses around the city being closed homeless people remain on most streets in and around Center City. Outside Broad Street Ministries where they serve meals to the homeless people waited in groups to eat. Brennan says he was there for lunch today.

"It was pretty crowded," he said. A quick drive shows outside the Convention Center homeless camp after homeless camp.

"Imagine people that are already sick and then they get the virus on top of it," said 25-year old Matt Paggon. He was there sharing a space with another person and less than six feet apart from others.

"It's very difficult for people out here. There's groups of people you're all together say you go to Hub of Hope there's big lines everyone together," he said.

Sister Mary Scullion is with Project Hope that helps the homeless.

"Obviously, as more public places close the ability for people experiencing homeless to wash their hands is limited,” said Scullion. She says the city is working with homeless agencies to continue operating medical service and feeding operations.

"The existing protocols such as not congregating in large numbers I know that many of the food dining facilities or soup kitchens have begun to give out brown bag lunches or dinners. This situation is only exacerbated by their homelessness," said Scullion.

A city's spokesperson for the mayor's office released the following statement:

"Homelessness and hunger don’t go away when a public health emergency emerges like the one we are facing now. While simply being homeless does not make one likely to transmit the disease, the fact is that people experiencing homelessness are extremely vulnerable to sickness in general as a result of the trauma and instability of being without a home. And the longer someone is out there, the worse the health outcomes become. While people in shelter do have greater access to hygiene, sanitation, and healthcare, the inability to observe the best social distancing provided by a private home are realities that limit prevention options.

The City is keeping the needs and interests of people experiencing homelessness is front and center in the emergency activation. The Office of Homeless Services is literally in the Emergency Operations Center alongside public health, law enforcement and other agencies.

For those on the street, OHS is providing basic information about the virus and how they can get both shelter and healthcare. Outreach teams are largely doing this while also distributing hand sanitizer, water, hygiene kits, and a helping hand. For those in shelter, OHS teams are observing preventative measures like handwashing, coughing and sneezing into the elbow, and social distancing as much as possible. For instance, we’re delivering individual meals in many cases instead of the typical large, sit down gathering. We are reviewing protocols and interacting with health officials hourly to respond to emerging needs.

OHS is also looking at how possible simple screenings might work at intake and what to do in various hypothetical situations. Working through the Emergency Operation Center we are working to make additional supplies available, exploring options for quarantine should complete social isolation be called for and trying to reduce both risk and exposure for staff and participants.

While this is an unprecedented situation, the Office of Homeless Services is doing what we do every cold and flu season and have done each time a new virus appears: we’re in constant close contact with health officials, relying on science and putting that together with our trauma-informed approach."


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