COVID-19 has swept through our communities here in Washington state, highlighting the need to prepare as a community, and to take steps to protect our marginalized and vulnerable populations. Planning for these vulnerable populations is essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting our hospital and healthcare system capacity and resources. Public health, safety, and security have been paramount considerations in this planning.
The Thurston County Homeless Crisis Response System (HCRS) is a robust and connected team of local jurisdictions, homeless service providers, non-profits, local agencies, and dedicated citizen groups, taking on the response to COVID-19 for those experiencing homelessness. Together they are working to protect the community and mitigate harm in this already vulnerable population. This system has worked to respond to COVID-19 by supporting participants while taking precautions and stretching what is possible with technology, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and proper social distancing.
The quick response by the County Office of Housing and Homeless Prevention has been possible in part because of a WA State Department of Commerce grant targeting COVID-19 efforts. With services changing and closing as organizations implement precautionary measures, Thurston County has worked with a long list of organizations, service and outreach providers to close gaps and support those most in need with financial and planning support. For example:
- Shelter bed spacing has been adjusted to accommodate social distancing by moving beds further apart.
- Staffing has been increased to allow shelters to operate 24/7.
- Providers have also implemented monitoring and disease screening protocols upon entry, as well as limiting guest interactions.
- Hygiene services such as portable toilets, handwashing stations, and dumpsters were distributed to targeted sites.
- Local outreach providers, known as the Greater Regional Outreach Workers League, are publishing a weekly digest to relay information into encampments, providing details on how to find support, connect with outreach workers, get tested, or find help with quarantine and isolation.
- Thurston County has also been developing plans for operating a Quarantine and Isolation facility for those who do not have the ability to shelter in their own home, should that become a need.
- The Quarantine and Isolation team has secured a facility, transportation, and meal vendors, and have plans to coordinate wrap-around supportive services.
- Behavioral and medical health needs, substance recovery support, and trauma informed care have been considered in planning for quarantine and isolation.
- These quarantine and isolation facilities will be available for anyone in the community who is unable to stay at home, including first responders, people living with vulnerable individuals, and people experiencing homelessness.
Thurston County Public Health and Social Services would like to thank all our partners who have worked so hard, and who continue to work together closely on thoughtful response to this pandemic, including but not limited to: Thurston County Emergency Management, City of Olympia, the Union Gospel Mission, St. Michael’s and Sacred Heart Parish, Intercity Transit, Interfaith Works, Providence St. Peters, Salvation Army, Community Action Council, the Family Support Center, Community Youth Services, Capitol Recovery Center, City of Olympia, Just Housing Olympia, Sidewalk, Food Not Bombs, Build a Bus Home, Catholic Community Services, TMBHO and Partners in Prevention Education. We would also like to thank our Thurston County community, who continue to generously provide a wide variety of donations for this work.
Local plans have sought to ensure that we don’t experience a COVID-19 outbreak within the community of individuals experiencing homelessness. However, in the event of an outbreak the response will be organized, trauma informed, and participant centered. This collaborative planning and response reflect the strength of our community and demonstrate how we are able to come together to address a crisis.