As Austin fights coronavirus crisis, some of city’s homeless will lose basic needs

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Arturo Rodriguez was outside the ARCH on Thursday morning.

“It’s not fair,” he said.

Rodriguez was hoping to take a shower and do some laundry this week, but now finds himself on the outside looking in.

Like many others, good hygiene is on his mind.

“Wouldn’t it be even worse if we didn’t take a shower, do laundry or whatever? You’d be contaminated,” he said.

Beginning this week, showers, laundry facilities, phone access and lockers are limited to those who receive case management and stay overnight at the ARCH.

The shelter has instituted practices on the inside, such as liberal use of hand sanitizer, daily deep cleanings of common spaces and the bunk area, and re-positioning those beds so clients aren’t so close together.

Meanwhile, the hundreds of men and women who aren’t clients won’t be able to use the ARCH’s day resource center.         

It’s one example of the tough decisions leaders like Front Steps Executive Director Greg McCormack have to make as the reality of coronavirus hits closer to home.

In this case, the health and protection of shelter staff and clients was the top priority.

“I think we may see more individuals on our streets in the next few weeks,” said McCormack, “And hope that as a community, we understand why they’re there and not overreact to it.”

Gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited in the city, but the standard won’t be as high for those on Austin’s streets.

For example, the city says it is scaling back its camp cleanups to avoid displacing people and potentially spreading anything.

Austin Public Health says the pickup of debris and trash will continue, including maintaining the city’s Violet Bag program.

“When the mandate is self-quarantine, we stay home,” said McCormack. “We’re looking at individuals who don’t have homes to go to.”

As someone who is more vulnerable, Rodriguez says he tries to practice social distancing.

Austin Police officers were occasionally seen around the ARCH, reminding people outside not to be in groups or stay too close together.

“They drive around and get everyone to just separate,” Rodriguez said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Public Health officials said no one in Austin experiencing homelessness had tested positive for COVID-19.

Homelessness service providers will be in contact with those individuals on the streets, and in some cases providing them with hand sanitizer or other resources, McCormack said.

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