Catholic Charities: Homeless shelters ‘ground zero’ for battling spread of coronavirus

| March 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

One of the buildings at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Place homeless shelter and services center in downtown St. Paul. Courtesy Catholic Charities

Calling homeless shelters “ground zero” for helping Minnesota flatten the curve on coronavirus illnesses so hospitals are not overwhelmed by people with COVID-19, Tim Marx of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis March 26 called on lawmakers to include shelters in emergency medical funding to battle the virus.

“We’re operating as field hospitals for the poor,” Marx, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, said from the nonprofit’s Dorothy Day Place emergency shelter and social services center in downtown St. Paul. “Our emergency shelters are ground zero where this needs to happen.”

Marx was joined at the news conference by Rhonda Otteson, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, and other representatives of emergency shelters and services for the homeless across the state.

Marx and others urged the Legislature to include homeless shelters in the $200 million recently appropriated for health care relief to fight COVID-19.

“Organizations that serve those experiencing homelessness are on the ‘front lines’ of health care, providing care and support to the elderly, those with chronic conditions, cleaning up their vomit, providing basic hygiene, providing food,” the groups said in a news release detailing their requests. “These organizations should be eligible for these health care funds to prevent people from entering into acute care hospitals and to prevent community spread.”

The groups also called for significant, additional robust COVID-19-related relief and coordination that would include services to people experiencing homelessness.

That should include opening up hotels and arenas to the homeless, particularly those who are elderly, to practice appropriate social distancing and hygiene to prevent further spread of the virus, Marx said.

The groups also requested continued private support to shelters, which are facing millions of dollars in added costs to protect many of the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and thus also protecting the broader public from the illness.

“Without public and private philanthropic investments, shelters will face dire choices that could impact the entire community,” the organizations said.

Marx said Catholic Charities alone is spending an additional $250,000 a week to protect homeless shelter staff and residents from the virus. Emergency shelters are among health care providers, all of whom are working hard to curb spread of the coronavirus, he said.

“We need to do a much better job now so we can ‘flatten the curve’ for the future,” Marx said.

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