When you don't have a place to 'Stay at Home'
By Julie Estlick
When the governor issues a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of a deadly virus, where do you go if there isn’t a home for you to stay in? For those who are experiencing homelessness in Larimer County, it’s a frightening dilemma during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A significant number of our clients have underlying health conditions and many are seniors, so when this virus became a global health crisis it was clear that the unhoused population would be most vulnerable with no options to be home and avoid people,” says Homeward Alliance Executive Director David Rout, whose organization oversees the Murphy Center for Hope.
Then, the City of Fort Collins stepped up and offered the closed Northside Aztlan Community Center (NACC) as a temporary 24/7 shelter. Quickly, community partners Homeward Alliance, Homeward 2020, Health District of Northern Larimer County, SummitStone Health Partners, Catholic Charities of Larimer County, and Fort Collins Rescue Mission sprang into action to create a centralized operations center at NACC.
The large gym provides space for improved social distancing and SummitStone Health Partners is offering mental health support. Health District Medical Director Dr. James Stewart created a triage system at visitor check-in to funnel those with symptoms that could be related to coronavirus to a recovery center in another part of the building. There guests can rest and be monitored in isolation. Six people were in isolation at the end of March. Those with more severe symptoms are evaluated by EMTs for a trip to the hospital.
The shelter served over 480 people in March alone. “It’s a containment strategy, and it’s allowed us to slow this thing down a little bit at the very least,” Rout says.
Homeward 2020 Director Holly LeMasurier, interim project manager for the COVID-19 Homelessness Response in Fort Collins, says, “We’re working hard to identify and separate those with a risk of spreading infection and protecting the most vulnerable populations at risk of severe disease.”
LeMasurier is coordinating the partner coalition’s implementation of recommended health protocols across the city’s shelter system, to flatten the curve, or spread out the number of cases over a period of time so hospitals and health-care workers aren’t overwhelmed. LeMasurier says, “Our goal is to achieve the best possible outcomes for all the guests, staff members, and the general community.”