Chicago has opened shelters at five new locations to house the homeless as the city grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city’s homeless numbers are expected to rise after a state-imposed stay-at-home order forced more people out of work. Lisa Morrison Butler, head of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services, said the nation’s third-largest city is working on “decompressing” shelters that are typically full.
Illinois has set aside $8 million toward isolation housing and homeless assistance.
As of March 27, Chicago had moved 164 people younger than 60 with no preexisting conditions out of existing shelters and into the new locations, the Chicago Tribune reported. The department said 665 of 900 new beds are ready. Hotel rooms will be made available for those who have tested positive or have been exposed to the virus.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.
There has been one confirmed coronavirus infection in a Chicago shelter, a worker. One resident at another shelter was hospitalized pending results. Both facilities remain open.
Some of Chicago’s homeless voiced concern that conditions in the shelters could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.
Missy Lee, who lived in a Chicago shelter with about 40 other women, said she felt helpless because women at the shelter were coughing and none of them had been tested.
“The minute it starts warming up, I’m ready to start sleeping outside,” she said. “I’ve got a better chance of not catching the stuff out there than in here.”
Advocates say Chicago’s efforts to curb exposure among a vulnerable population are promising, but they’re not sufficient to meet mounting needs.
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was collaborating with the city to recruit staff at the new locations. The coalition’s director of policy, Julie Dworkin, said Chicago has long needed more beds and that the pandemic has simply exacerbated the issue.
“The thing that strikes me the most about the whole situation: It wasn’t enough of a crisis that fellow human beings were sleeping on cardboard in the sidewalks before,” she said.