Balancing challenges of coronavirus threat, homelessness, public transportation and health

Every day, we get new challenges at the homeless shelters. Yesterday we posted about our need for meal service. We want to thank the people, sports teams, nonprofits and apartment building who have stepped up to host a dinner. (And let you know that we definitely have more spots open!) You guys bring the good!

The threat of coronavirus is bringing a host of new and unpredictable challenges. This evening, we learned that Metro Transit will be will be suspending service between 11 pm and 4:30 am. They report…

Additionally, Metro Transit’s existing operator shortage is expected to worsen due to strong recommendations to stay home in the event of illness, school closures and other factors. The move will also provide more opportunity to clean and disinfect buses and trains, helping to protect riders and operations staff.

This is a more difficult conundrum than dinners for our guests. We understand the need for cleaning but the difficulty is that they leave some of our most vulnerable citizens overexposed and open new vulnerabilities to the public at large.

Imagine the challenge to Minnesotans experiencing homelessness who spend their nights on the bus or train because these places are well-lit, policed and safer than other public options. These people will be displaced starting tonight at 11pm. They have had no time to prepare.

Where will they go? Where would you go if had no home to go to in the time of quarantine? We may have a few spaces open at that time, but we won’t be able to accommodate them all. And again, how will they get here?

Truth is, they will disperse to different areas in the Cities. They may find space in bus shelters, transit stations or other public places. So while the buses and trains may be disinfected, germs will be spreading in new and unpredictable areas. It seems like a wash from a public heath perspective.

The long term answer is that we need more housing and shelter space. Our industry motto is shelter saves lives, housing ends homelessness. Right now we at the shelters are focused on increasing access to shelter space. Again, understanding that this is a harder question, we wanted to give a glimpse at the issues that meet us these days. And invite you to send any ideas – for example do you know of space that might be transformed into a shelter? Let us know!

Published by Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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