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COVID-19 protocols strain Nevada County homeless shelter’s budget

Brett Blanchard sits on his bed at Hospitality House's Outreach Dorm in Grass Valley. Since implementing its COVID-19 emergency plan, the nonprofit homeless shelter has seen a growing number of guests and a dire need for donations.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Lescher

By the numbers

As of June 10

Number of COVID-19 cases: 50

Number tested: 3,815

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 38

Number of active cases: 5

Number of recoveries: 44

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

As western Nevada County’s only 24/7 homeless shelter, Hospitality House has housed a total of 23 people since implementing its COVID-19 emergency plans on March 16, and numbers continue to rise.

“We are housing even more people this week and next,” said program manager Isaias Acosta. “Our efforts to help people have only increased since the onset of the pandemic and they will continue to increase because the need to respond is great.”

Hospitality House implemented its emergency action plan protocol for COVID-19 in mid-March, following recommendations set forth by Nevada County Public Health, said Acosta. Since that time, these plans have included increased sanitation and disinfecting of common areas as well as nightly training for guests and staff on hand washing and general hygiene. Guests are regularly screened for possible fever using infrared thermometers, and dinner service now has three separate seatings to ensure there are no more than 16 guests in the dining room, each seated six feet apart.

Additionally, all guests have access to masks and sanitization kits. In partnership with the county’s Homeless Outreach and Medical Engagement (HOME) team, Acosta said Hospitality House has been mitigating for COVID-19 on the streets by passing out preventive supplies, hygiene kits and helping people access medical care, including COVID-19 testing.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

In order to adhere to shelter-in-place best practices, Hospitality House has shifted from being a single overnight shelter into a 24/7 operation, serving people at Utah’s Place as well as five separate motels.

“We’ve made this shift into motels in partnership with the county to ensure social distancing recommendations are adhered to and to help even more people during the pandemic,” said Acosta. “Our services are only increasing by the day and we have no intentions of slowing down when people need us now more than ever before.”

Individuals who display possible symptoms are given a mask, separated from the rest of the population and are required to visit a physician and a local testing station. Hospitality House staff members said they have emergency plans in place should the need for quarantining COVID-19 individuals arise. However, of the approximate 30 homeless individuals who have been tested, everyone has been negative, reported Acosta.

‘HOUSING FIRST’ DEVELOPMENTS

The implementation of COVID-19 emergency plans come on the heels of a relatively new homeless assistance approach deemed “Housing First,” which is guided by the belief that individuals need basic necessities like food and shelter before attending to secondary issues, such as getting a job, learning how to budget or focusing on substance abuse issues. As a result, last year Hospitality House opened a separate “Outreach Dorm,” which now serves as a new entry point for services.

“This dorm follows a come-as-you-are philosophy, which means people who may be struggling with addiction or related ailments are still welcome indoors and supported in their recovery process,” said Acosta.

In the spirit of the Housing First philosophy, Hospitality House also launched its new pet program at the shelter on New Year’s Day. For the first time in the shelter’s history, people and their pets can both receive shelter and care. The pet program provides animals with indoor shelter, food, licensing, veterinary care, spay and neuter, wellness checks, flea and tick treatment, medications and even medical operations, if needed.

A key result of this new program is that it now lowers the barrier for services for individuals who own pets and increases their likelihood of returning to permanent housing, said Acosta.

ADDITIONAL FUNDING NEEDED

With the demand for services rising and the need to continue implementing COVID-19 best health practices for the unforeseeable future, the nonprofit community shelter relies heavily on donations for its survival, especially now.

“We shifted from a single overnight shelter into a 24/7 operation at multiple locations,” said Acosta. “Hospitality House’s expenses are rapidly increasing out of absolute necessity to keep people well cared for and safe, including small children. We’re providing three meals a day, mental health counseling, job training, customized case management, and we’re doing it with no lapses in services provided.”

“We welcome the community’s help if they can give it,” continued Acosta. “A $50 donation will help one person right now struggling with homelessness receive a night of emergency shelter with wraparound services, such as food, clothing, job training, mental health counseling, transportation to medical, and customized case management to return to stable housing — on top of supplies and the support needed to make it through the pandemic.

“These services are working,” he added. “People continue to move into permanent homes.”

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RELATED RESOURCES

http://www.TheUnion.com/coronavirus

http://www.MyNevadaCounty.com/coronavirus

Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

Nevada County Relief Fund for Covid-19

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.


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