Homeless encampment
A homeless encampment along a Highway 101 on-ramp at Story Road is pictured in this file photo. File photo.

    With nearly 10,000 homeless residents sleeping on Santa Clara County’s streets every night, regional leaders say they’re concerned the novel coronavirus could rapidly spread among one of the county’s most vulnerable populations.

    County leaders have ramped up their efforts to protect the homeless community from a massive outbreak in the South Bay, which quickly emerged as a coronavirus hotspot last month. In order to get people the services they need, officials have set up multiple temporary housing locations, including shelters and motels, and are working around the clock to get people who are sick or have been exposed to the virus a safe place to stay.

    For homeless residents who are sick, think they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or have pre-existing conditions that place them at risk, here is a step-by-step guide to getting into a motel or homeless shelter.

    Step 1: The first step is to call the county’s 24/7 hotline at 408-278-6420. If the lines are busy, a county hotline operator will call back. The county has at least four staff members available to take those calls daily and offer help in multiple languages for individuals who do not speak English.

    For those without access to a phone or broadband service, outreach teams in the South Bay are visiting homeless encampments and offering their phones to assist with calling to start the intake process. Teams of health care workers are specifically looking for those who are more vulnerable to the virus, such as seniors or people with underlying health conditions. County officials are also working to provide hand washing stations, portable toilets and clean water at homeless encampments.

    Day time centers, such as the Catholic Charities John XXIII Multi Service Center at 195 E San Fernando St. in downtown San Jose, also have phones available to call the hotline.

    Emergency assistance network agencies can also help. A list of agencies to contact is available here.

    Step 2: After making contact with the county, the intake process begins with a series of questions on the individual’s housing status, symptoms, location, health conditions, age, the number of family members present and service needs. A nurse might get involved if a medical condition is reported. The phone health assessment will help county officials place homeless residents in the safest location.

    Step 3: Depending on whether symptoms are present, county health officials might test for COVID-19. Testing is not required to be admitted to a motel, but COVID-19 positive individuals will be placed in a separate location to self-quarantine.

    Step 4: After an individual’s needs are identified, they will be placed in either a motel or a field respite center (FRC), such as the Santa Clara Convention Center. If symptoms are severe, the county will get the resident to a hospital.

    For those who are sent to the FRC, the site has beds, supplies and medicine available with the capacity to serve up to 250 people who have COVID-19 symptoms. The center is available for individuals who do not have a place to self-isolate due to homelessness or home conditions that are overcrowded and do not allow for separation.

    There are two motel options available to individuals seeking shelter. Some motels are set up for those who have been tested for the virus and are awaiting results. The others are for those who meet the medical need for COVID-19. County officials place individuals in motels based on public health guidance and a combination of age and underlying medical conditions.

    Patients will be admitted only through a referral from a county representative – there will be no walk-up services available. All programs are referral-based to ensure capacity and require a phone health assessment for the safety of others, officials said.

    What to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Maintain a safe, 6 foot distance from anyone, especially those who are coughing or sneezing.
    • Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth.
    • Cover your nose and mouth with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

    If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately or contact the county hotline.

    Santa Clara County resources:

    For direct assistance, call the emergency 24/7 hotline at 408-278-6420.

    To see updates on the county’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, visit the emergency operations center website here.

    To contact the emergency operations center directly visit the website here. 

    To learn more about the Field Response Center, go here.  

    For more information about COVID-19 operations, you can visit the county website here.

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: In a new series focused on bringing you “news you can use” during the crisis, we provide tips and explanatory stories to help you survive the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you want to know? Let us know: [email protected].

    Catch up on our other stories:

    How to apply for unemployment benefits in California

    Make your own CDC-approved mask (plus how to store it)

    Can’t pay rent? Here’s what you should do

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