Hotel officials say at least 10 people in their “shelter” have the virus.
RICHMOND – Michael Anderson, a houseless person living in Richmond, says he’d rather sleep in the street than risk accessing the city’s homeless services. That’s because there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 at the shelter.
“Because the homeless shelter, they’ve got the COVID in there. But not out here. In there, there’s a whole lot of people together who’ve been sick. They’re sending you to death over there. I’d rather be out here,” said Anderson.
There are at least 10 cases of COVID-19 at the Quality Inn in Richmond where houseless people are currently being sheltered. That’s according to an employee of the hotel, Jimmy Patel.
“Yes we do, we have it,” Patel said. “It’s only one floor, so it’s like 10. 10 people. But it depends, sometimes we just have two or three people too.”
According to advocates, the number of houseless people with COVID-19 infections in this hotel continues to rise. They also say the shelter isn’t taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Four have come up positive this week alone. They’re quarantining those, but the shelter’s still open. I don’t know if it’s been cleaned, but I know they’re still sharing blankets,” said Rhonda Sneed, founder of Blessing Warriors, a local nonprofit providing food and resources to the houseless population.
The Quality Inn experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak is located at 3207 N. Arthus Ashe Blvd in Richmond.
Houseless People Test Positive
Linwood Haskins is one of the houseless people who are currently quarantining at the hotel. His COVID-19 test came back positive on Monday or Tuesday. He says he wasn’t alone.
“People were diagnosed positive with me. I don’t know how many, but I suspect others were sent there who were positive, because one white male said he was sent there after the COVID test,” Haskins said.
Haskins says before his diagnosis, he was sleeping in a communal environment. Upon testing positive, the shelter transfers him to quarantine.
Unsafe, Communal Living Conditions
Richmond doesn’t have a traditional homeless shelter. Instead, the Homeward Safety Net Shelter in Richmond relies on local hotels to house the city’s houseless population. However, this service is not always available. Homeward is a cold-weather shelter, meaning that they only provide shelter when temperatures in Richmond dip below 40 degrees. The shelter is also open during inclement weather.
When the cold-weather shelter originally started providing services in Richmond, houseless people got individual rooms. But that’s changed for everyone who isn’t in quarantine.
According to Patel, houseless people at the Quality Inn are sleeping in the hotel’s ballrooms. There are currently about 40 people sleeping together in these spaces, Patel said. Their beds are close together, and Haskins describes the environment as crowded.
“These people who have been exposed are allowed to go back out into the city,” said Sneed. “So they could be spreading COVID.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, people should avoid crowds. Keeping people, especially populations who are particularly vulnerable to contracting the virus, in communal areas like a tightly packed ballroom does not comply with CDC recommendations.
Despite the concerns of advocates and houseless people about the spread of the virus, representatives of the Quality Inn said they’re not worried about the virus spreading.
“No we’re not [worried about spreading COVID-19],” Patel said. “That’s why we take precautions about it. The COVID floor is on a different floor, and regular customers are on a different floor. Because it happened to the whole floor.”
Richmond Houseless Services Aren’t Working
Advocates say the model Homeward is using to service houseless people in Richmond isn’t working, and it hasn’t since it was introduced in 2019.
Instead of providing services until the city can step in, members of the Blessing Warriors say their organization is the only things standing between houseless people and freezing or starving.
“We try to help people survive until, until recently, until they got to resources. But now, really, there aren’t any. And people are suffering out here,” said Sneed. “Especially now with the pandemic, most of the pantries have closed up that used to serve hot meals.”
Representatives of Homeward did not respond to a request by Dogwood for an interview. The Virginia Department of Health also did not respond to a request for an interview in time for publication.
How You Can Help
Blessing Warriors operates with only volunteers, and on donations from the community.
“[We’re] doing it on pennies. On donations from the community, the compassionate community members who care about life. Versus the multi-millions that have been funneled, with nothing but death on their hands to show for it. That’s what the safety net shelter is,” said Traci Byrd-Eagles, volunteer with the Blessing Warriors.
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