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Homeless Shelters Keep Guests Less Than 6 Feet Apart, But Implement Measures To Stop COVID-19 Spread

Photo of the entrance of a new shelter.
Rocio Hernandez
At The Road Home’s men’s shelter in South Salt Lake City, hundreds of guests sleep in bunk beds roughly 4 feet apart, but officials are considering options to spread out the sleeping arrangements.";s:

People experiencing homelessness are at an increased risk for complications from coronavirus because their underlying medical conditions often go untreated. 

People in shelters are not being kept 6 feet away from each other, the recommended distance to avoid transmitting the virus.

At The Road Home’s men’s shelter in South Salt Lake City, for example, hundreds of guests sleep in bunk beds roughly 4 feet apart, according to Executive Director Michelle Flynn.

“But one of the options that we are considering is if needed, we could reduce the number of people in the dorms and set up, for example, cots in some of the common space area[s] to do that spreading out,” Flynn said. 

For now, homeless shelters are educating people who stay there on prevention, providing cleaning materials — like masks, paper towels, and soap and asking clients if they are experiencing symptoms. 

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Salt Lake County shelters, but one person staying at a women’s shelter in Salt Lake City operated by Volunteers of America Utah has shown symptoms. 

That person is being quarantined on site while they await test results, said Volunteers of America Utah President Kathy Bray.

“We can provide masks to the clients,” Bray said. “Our staff would also be provided with masks in order to continue to serve them and bring them meals in the meantime.”

Even though social distancing is harder in homeless shelters, Salt Lake County Director of Programs and Partnerships Katherine Fife argued it’s still better than being on the street. 

“The ability to wash your hands, to have disinfectant, to have the resources that keep you healthy otherwise are really important,” Fife said. 

If people experiencing homelessness begin to test positive for COVID-19, Salt Lake County has set aside two government buildings where they can quarantine. Fife added that if those buildings fill up, the County plans to open more.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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