When the COVID-19 public health emergency prompted people in our communities to isolate in their homes, Alliance staff members went to work to safeguard the most vulnerable people: those who have no homes to shelter in.
Alliance Senior Vice President—Community Health and Well-Being Ann Oshel and her staff have been working with emergency management partners in the counties we serve to help create safe housing for people who need to be isolated. “The current public health emergency has brought into stark relief how important housing is in maintaining health,” she said.
Oshel said it was not readily apparent at first to emergency management officials that the most vulnerable population at risk of spreading the virus was the homeless population but that there are now homeless teams in the operation centers.
The plan to keep people experiencing homelessness safe and healthy is three-pronged, Oshel said.
The first prong is working with hospitals and county partners to create isolation sites for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive, which includes people identified in hospitals, crisis facilities, shelters and people living in campsites.
Oshel and her staff have enlisted several hotels willing to house people, with Alliance footing the bill for those eligible for our services and the counties covering others. Medical partners such as Duke Health and Lincoln Community Health provide medical support.
The second prong is creating safe sites for people who possibly have the virus and are awaiting test results. “You can’t put them in the isolation sites, but they clearly can’t be in the shelters and on the streets,” Oshel said. These people are also housed in area hotels.
The third prong is finding safe destinations for people who would have otherwise been discharged into homelessness from crisis facilities and emergency departments. “This has involved creating an inventory of places outside of hotels that have inventory that we can call in a hurry when we have someone who needs to be housed,” Oshel said. She said her staff have worked alongside Alliance Care Coordination staff who have a lot of experience transitioning people from facilities to community living.
In addition, Oshel said the Alliance Independent Living Initiative has been expanded so that hospitals and health care providers can apply for assistance to speed up the process of transitioning people from facilities into supported housing. “The reality is that hospitals are anticipating such an influx of need for beds that we can’t just hold people for a couple of days while they figure it out,” Oshel said “People have to be discharged on the day that they are ready, so we have to have the resources and supports in place for them quickly.”
Oshel and her staff are accustomed to coordinating with community, government and law enforcement partners after events such as hurricanes, last year’s gas explosion in Durham and the recent crisis at Durham’s McDougald Terrace public housing development, but Oshel said this pandemic has taken our coordination and collaboration “to a whole new level,” highlighting the value of community partnerships.
“The COVID-19 response has been an important reminder that no entity can do anything by themselves. We have a role to play, hospitals have a role to play, emergency management has a role to play, but nobody can do this by themselves, it’s just too big, too fast moving and there are too many needs.”