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Homeless Advocates Calling For Coronavirus Protections

The closure of public libraries and other services leaves people experiencing homelessness with fewer options for places to go for food and shelter. [Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock]
A man sleeping on the sidewalk with a sign that reads "homeless and hungry"

Updated: 5:29 p.m., Thursday, March 19, 2020

As public services and buildings close during the coronavirus pandemic, Cleveland’s homeless population is still at risk and local advocacy groups are putting out the call for more protective policies.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) aims to address gaps in protection against the virus in its Emergency COVID-19 Homeless Responses, released Wednesday.

The closure of public libraries and other services leaves people experiencing homelessness with fewer options for places to go for food and shelter, said NEOCH spokesperson Molly Martin. If a homeless person becomes sick, she said, current guidelines to address it won’t necessarily work.

“You basically are sent home to rest, but if that’s not an option, if someone is experiencing homelessness, it’s a matter of finding a quarantined option for them,” Martin said.

That could include a motel room or another temporary housing option that would still keep them isolated, which means crowded shelters where they would usually go for food and a place to stay are not an option.

“There isn’t any priority set for having testing available at shelters, where people are more at risk because they’re forced to be in more congregate settings,” Martin said.

Shelters are starting to screen for coronavirus symptoms, Martin said, but volunteers and employees won’t always be able to identify it right away.

“A lot of people aren’t medical professionals, so how are we educating and training our outreach workers to assess whether or not someone might be symptomatic?” Martin said. “Even on a daily basis, there’s just such changing protocol on what people do if they think they might be sick.”

NEOCH and other advocates are also calling for measures to protect more people from becoming homeless during the pandemic. Advocacy groups and businesses sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine this week, calling for a statewide eviction moratorium, Martin said.

Foreclosure actions are suspended in Cuyahoga County for the next 60 days, County Executive Armond Budish announced in a Thursday press release. The moratorium applies to occupied structures, including owner-occupied properties and rentals. All in-process foreclosures will continue, according to the press release, but sheriff sales will be suspended.

“The coronavirus is having enormous impact on many people, including people who are losing jobs and undergoing other economic hardship,” Budish said in the release. “Rest assured that as the situation evolves we will continue to look at other appropriate measures.”

Some individual cities have enacted similar policies, and Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley proposed a partial moratorium this week.

But those efforts need to be widespread, Martin said.

“Our shelters in our community are already at capacity, so we really want to prevent any new entries,” Martin said.