BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Gov. Baker has announced a multi-step plan to ensure people experiencing homelessness who test positive for COVID-19 will have a place to isolate and recover.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Baker said his administration is working on "a strategy to support homeless individuals and families" during the pandemic.
"I think everybody knows that the challenges of COVID-19 are being especially felt hard by some of our most vulnerable populations, including the homeless," said Baker. "For an estimated 18,000 Massachusetts residents that experience homelessness, COVID-19 is particularly challenging."
The administration's first goal is to establish "regional isolation and recovery sites for COVID-positive individuals." Baker said that includes over 1,450 beds across the Commonwealth available, with the capacity to add more.
Five hotels have been opened across the state by MEMA, providing 550 beds to homeless individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus. Baker said all five hotels are staffed with 24/7 security and nursing staff. The state has also been working with local health systems and community health centers to support other on-site support services at the hotels, like physical and behavioral health experts.
Massachusetts was among the first states to create the "designated isolation sites" for COVID-positive homeless people, thanks to a partnership between MEMA and the state's shelters over the past several weeks.
There are also two isolation sites in Boston; the East Newton Pavilion and the Boston Hope Medical Center at the BCEC. Between the locations, Baker said there are 732 beds for Boston's homeless individuals who have suspected or confirmed cases of the virus.
The state is also working to support several municipalities that have set up their own isolation solutions for homeless individuals, including Chelsea and Revere.
Baker said the second goal is to deploy equipment and supplies for local quarantine solutions. "We've created an expedited process for homeless shelters and municipalities to request equipment and supplies such as tents, beds, and portable showers," said Baker.
So far, the eleven communities receiving help from MEMA with quarantine efforts are Brockton, Cambridge, Fitchburg, Framingham, Greenfield, Hyannis, Lowell, Southbridge, Taunton, Worcester and Waltham.
Baker said the equipment will be set up in locations like repurposed school gyms, recreational centers, churches, office buildings, and heated tents.
As of April 15, a total of 84 homeless shelters in the state have received supplies from the state's COVID Command Center, including gloves, face shields, masks, gowns, partitions, temperature strips, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies.
"Each isolation and recovery site is being equipped with sufficient PPE, medical supplies, food, toiletries, and other provisions for all guests, clinical staff, security, and first responders," said Baker.
The administration's third goal is to support families in emergency assistance and domestic violence shelters, including an emergency screening protocol for families of COVID-19 positive people. Baker said providers will be able to spread people out more in shelters, and there will be more "scattered-site apartments" available. There will also be more options for where people can stay without penalty, like with friends and family.
Baker said the administration has also been providing technical assistance to organizations and municipalities seeking funding through FEMA's public assistance program.
"Through municipalities and non-profits, FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of the cost associated with qualifying quarantine and isolation services for people experiencing homelessness," Baker said. "We've also established a dedicated portal to support municipalities and organizations through the grant application process."
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