Uptick in COVID-19 also reaches D.C. shelters
Thirteen people living in D.C. shelters have tested positive for COVID-19 cases since Nov. 18 according to data from the Department of Human Services, ending a 20-day streak of no new cases among shelter residents.
This is part of a surge in COVID-19 cases in the region. D.C. reported 392 new cases on Dec. 5, currently the highest number of COVID-19 cases the city has seen in a single day.
“The recent increase of positive COVID-19 cases within the District’s shelters parallels a rise in broad community spread throughout the country,” DHS spokesperson Lauren Kinard wrote in a statement to Street Sense Media.
Some of the most recent infections occurred at the seasonal hypothermia shelters: King Greenleaf Recreation Center reported one positive case and Sherwood Recreation Center reported three positive cases as of Dec. 3.
DHS recently came under scrutiny of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A and other community leaders for planning to house up to 60 people in the Sherwood Recreation Center, 50 more people than Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office currently recommends for indoor gatherings.
The agency also recently opened a third PEP-V site — hotels contracted to provide space for medically vulnerable people to isolate themselves — and doubled the number of beds in most rooms at those sites in order to accommodate as many people experiencing homelessness as possible.
All three PEP-V sites, serving 639 residents, were full as of Dec. 16, according to Kinard.
“As of December 4, 2020, 268 people in the hotels for medically vulnerable residents have been matched to permanent housing resources and seventy-five people have moved from the hotels to permanent housing,” wrote Kinard in an email statement to Street Sense Media. Being matched to resources doesn’t mean the person has received a rental subsidy. DHS includes a range of services in this category, from being connected to a case manager, to obtaining an ID and processing other paperwork, to connecting residents who have Section 8 vouchers to suitable housing units — getting residents on track towards getting permanent housing.
In November, DHS Director Laura Zeilinger told Street Sense Media that no limit is put on a client’s time in PEP-V and that the average length of stay up to that point had been 123 days. “People would either exit to permanent housing or they no longer wish to stay in the program or for other reasons where it just hasn’t been an appropriate fit,” Zeilinger said.
However, according to a weekly shelter occupancy report for the week ending on Nov. 20, permanent supportive housing units are nearly full, with an occupancy rate of over 90%. Rapid rehousing units are over 94% full.
The D.C. government has prioritized the city’s homeless community as one of the first groups to access the COVID-19 vaccine, which will still take months to distribute. In the meantime, Kinard said DHS is doing daily COVID-19 screenings in its shelters, making sure shelter residents keep their own bed as long as they stay at the same shelter, serving grab-and-go meals and other policies to reduce the spread of COVID-19.