As cities and counties throughout California struggle to manage the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, local agencies are working to provide services to homeless residents, a task that is difficult even in the best of times.
From today’s vantage point, the best of times seems like a faint memory from the distant past.
“The City of Livermore, along with most Alameda County cities, has seen an increase in the number of unsheltered persons since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Josh Thurman, homeless services analyst with the City of Livermore.
Alameda County ranks seventh in the state in both the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections (2,101) and the number of deaths related to the disease (71), according to data reported by the county as of May 10. Of the confirmed infections, the county states that 26 patients are homeless, and another seven are likely homeless.
Accounting for 1.5% of the infected population, while comprising 0.5% of the total population, the homeless population bears more than its share of sickness.
The situation for the unsheltered population may actually be worse than the numbers suggest. The Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) warns on its website, “We are coordinating with Health Care for the Homeless, and so the number of homeless will change substantially.”
The state acted early in the crisis, and on March 18, launched Project Roomkey, making $150 million available to the goal of providing “noncongregate shelter options for people experiencing, homelessness, to protect human life, and minimize strain on health care system capacity.”
ACPHD secured two hotels in the county for use under Project Roomke. Cities like Livermore are using that resource to help unsheltered residents at risk from COVID-19.
“CityServe of the Tri-Valley has played a critical role in our COVID-19 response with our unsheltered residents,” Thurman explained, noting CityServe has placed 30 of the Tri-Valley’s unsheltered medically fragile residents in hotel rooms with funds from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program.
CityServe also provides the wraparound services for these residents, while Open Heart Kitchen provides meals to those in hotel rooms. About 15 of these 30 individuals who are now residing in hotel rooms are Livermore residents.”
With newly available resources, the City of Pleasanton has expanded its existing programs to meet a growing need for homeless services.
“Throughout the year and during the pandemic, the City of Pleasanton has been working with local nonprofits like Spectrum Community Services, Meals on Wheels, Tri-Valley Haven Food Pantry and Open Heart Kitchen to meet the needs of seniors and homeless
residents,” said Cindy Chin, public information officer for the City of Pleasanton. “There has been an increased need for food assistance throughout the county, and we continue to work with our partner organizations to serve our residents in need. Additionally, during this pandemic, city staff have been working to help prepare 600 daily meals at Open Heart Kitchen, pack and deliver groceries for Tri-Valley Haven, and distribute the senior lunches at the Pleasanton Senior Center via drive-thru.”
This past fall, the Pleasanton Police Department established a Homeless Outreach Team consisting of two full-time officers dedicated to work with homeless individuals and address homeless concerns. That team works closely with regional service providers to connect the city’s unsheltered residents with services and shelters.
The number of homeless residents has not grown in all Tri-Valley cities.
“According to our city manager, we have not seen a significant increase in the homeless population in Dublin,” explained Shari Jackman, public information officer for the City of Dublin. “Our homeless population is typically very small, especially compared to other cities in the Tri-Valley. The City of Dublin is working with our nonprofit partners, and we do know that there are many people who are at risk of becoming homeless due to job loss and inability to pay rent. We are working with those organizations and the county on solutions.”
The Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless and the Director of Homeless Care and Coordination have provided guidance to the City of Livermore, noted Thurman. As a result, the city has received a significant amount of pandemic-related supplies through the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
“After the shelter-in-place occurred, many of our faith-based partners had to close their doors, which meant
that many of the services, like showers and laundry facilities, were no longer available for unsheltered residents,” he said. “The city recognized that providing showers and laundry services for our unsheltered residents is essential, so the City of Livermore hired an industrial hygienist firm to establish proper cleaning and staff safety protocols. As a result, the shower and laundry program is back up and running.”
The City of Livermore also provided three portable restrooms and hand-washing stations near the Arroyo, a park within the East Bay Regional Park District. Thurman said the restrooms and hand-washing stations are cleaned and stocked with supplies daily and receive a deeper cleaning once or twice a week.