Homeless find that welcoming spots no longer open to them due to coronavirus | TheUnion.com

Homeless find that welcoming spots no longer open to them due to coronavirus

John Orona
Staff Writer

As businesses and government facilities close over concerns of spreading the COVID-19 disease, homeless Nevada County citizens face fears about their health and their future, while worrying about the familiar stigmatization and isolation of their everyday lives.

“What makes it most difficult is that fact that there are no places where you can pay and get a coffee or pastry and hang out, read the paper, charge your phone,” said Paul Mitchell, a 58-year-old housing insecure county resident. “Places that have been good to us in the past have had to shut their doors and it’s made us stay on the streets or be forced into a shelter.”

Mitchell said he’s not allowed at Hospitality House, although he’s trying to get back in, but many homeless people choose not to use shelters even if available. With more and more public places closing, the options for those without a home are winnowing.

“There’s definitely a correlation between the places where we’re normally able to go to and places that are not available anymore,” said Derek Snell, a 35-year-old housing insecure resident. “There’s shelters we could go that we could probably get into, if we’re lucky, that some of us choose not to.”

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According to Snell, shelters are often too full and don’t feel welcoming to the homeless. although he said the recently closed Spirit Peer Empowerment Center is a notable exception where homeless people can hang out and take care of their hygiene.

Steven Parker, 30, is also not allowed at Hospitality House and trying to get back in to be reunited with his girlfriend. According to Parker, he’s more worried about how the new coronavirus pandemic will bring unrest and uncertainty. He doesn’t buy the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s assessment that housing insecure people are more at-risk to carry COVID-19.

“We’re exposed constantly to the elements, we all share a weed pipe, our immune system is iron-clad by now,” Parker said. “I’m only worried because there was already a war on homeless people, they look at us like we’re freeloaders.”

The sentiment that homeless people are capable of surviving the virus, but are more concerned about social stigmas, was widespread.

“When you go in the supermarket, people look at you like they know you’re infected or something,” Snell said. “But when you become comfortable going in the dumpster and living by, ‘If it looks good, it smells good, it’s probably good,’ your immune system is pretty good to go.”

PRECAUTIONS

According to Hospitality House program manager Isaias Acosta, the shelter is taking extra precautions in light of the heightened risk of infection, with staff increasing sanitation efforts, screening guests for symptoms during intake with infrared thermometers, providing face masks and separating people who show symptoms from the rest of the population.

The shelter also has a policy where guests may only leave for approved appointments, and are given 30 minutes during which they can leave the shelter.

“If people leave during this time without an approved out, they will be in jeopardy of losing their bed and will be given lower priority at nightly intake as we are trying to promote a reduction of community interaction for individuals during this unprecedented time,” Acosta said in an email.

Tim Bianchi, a homeless resident staying at Hospitality House, said while people are not panicking about the virus, they are starting to develop cabin fever.

“If you’re trying to walk from the lower part to the place where your bed is, you’re likely to get stopped by someone going way too slow down the aisle or is asking a hundred questions that you can’t answer because you don’t work there,” Bianchi said. “They’re going crazy. Yesterday I had to have my sister drop off a pair of headphones and a pack of cigarettes.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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