As part of its continuing effort to assist individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Chicago announced a series of initiatives Monday aimed at lending assistance to vulnerable populations.
“Unlike many of us, our residents experiencing homelessness cannot simply close their doors to this disease, and that’s why we have rapidly escalated our citywide system to prevent transmission of this disease within shelters and encampments, and ultimately save lives,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “Though no one is immune to COVID-19, this pandemic has all too clearly revealed the chasms in our society and serves as a wake-up call on the life-and-death urgency of closing the gaps in equity and opportunity now, and in the months to come.
The Chicago Department of Public Health has arranged for nurses to visit homeless shelters across the city to provide in-person education and screenings, according to a press release. CDPH will also pair providers with local shelters for ongoing clinical support, and will look to build those relationships even after the pandemic is over.
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More than 25,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been distributed to shelter residents and staff through a partnership between the city, Rush University Medical System and Project HOPE.
The city has also been working with the Lawndale Christian Health Center to help ensure that residents have enough space to socially distance from one another in shelters. Nearly 100 high-risk residents have been moved into new areas to help that cause, and more will be placed in shelters in the days to come.
A partnership has also been forged with area YMCA locations in recent weeks, allowing those facilities to provide shelter to homeless individuals to allow social distancing and to provide “decompression of shelter populations,” according to Lightfoot.
The Salvation Army has also joined in that effort, providing nearly 700 shelter spaces for homeless individuals during the pandemic.
City of Chicago workers have also provided portable handwashing stations and bathrooms in homeless encampments throughout the city, and medical teams are also visiting those areas to provide assistance to residents.
Finally, the city is extending its testing capabilities for coronavirus, and will continue to perform tests for shelter workers and residents.
“As the situation on the ground evolves, so do the needs of residents experiencing homelessness,” DFSS Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler said. “From the start of this situation, the wellbeing of residents in shelters and encampments has been a top priority at DFSS. We have adjusted strategies to limit gaps in services and made real-time decisions to ensure vulnerable populations in Chicago have access to every resource available for them to stay healthy.”
When all is said and done, Lightfoot is hopeful that the efforts made to assist homeless populations can be turned into work to help those individuals when the pandemic is over.
“The work we’re doing now is building a foundation and infrastructure by which we will address these issues long-term,” she said. “It’s really remarkable how people are coming together to fill a need at this time.”