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Homeless agencies struggling to meet demand as coronavirus spreads

City preparing shelter for homeless who need quarantine

HOUSTON – We’re all being told to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but what do you do if you have no home?

That’s the problems thousands of homeless people in Harris County and surrounding counties are facing. They are among the most vulnerable.

Service organizations are scrambling to fill the need

Among those who depend on volunteer services to survive is Jose Gonzalez, 60. He says he’s lived on the street for three decades. OnTuesday morning, he was able to pick up a sack lunch before they ran out at the Beacon, a homeless services agency downtown.

“I mean this keeps you going you know. And a lot of other services are shut down,” Gonzalez said.

With the virus spreading, Houston’s homeless shelters are all mostly full, some being on locked down. And care providers are struggling to find enough food, medical and cleaning supplies to weather the crisis

Gonzalez compares it to a hurricane

“With a hurricane you know its going to be a week, three weeks and everything is back in line," he said. "This has already been what two and a half weeks, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better.”

That means the roughly 3,900 homeless people spread across Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties are even more vulnerable than before.

So far, only one has tested positive for the virus and has since recovered, but threat remains. A larger outbreak in this community could be catastrophic.

“They’re twice as likely to become infected and if they become infected the diseases is twice as deadly,” said Ana Rausch, vice president of operations for the Homeless Coalition.

Rausch said outreach teams are on the streets daily offering food, support and advice on hygiene. And there are plans for the city to expand shelter capacity for homeless people who may need to be quarantined.

But bottled water, personal protection equipment, and food are still needed.

And so far, neither the city or the county have announced an overall strategy for dealing with the problem.

If you’d like to help, Rausch said the best thing to do is offer a money donation by going to the Coalition’s website, www.homelesshouston.org.

Magnificat House, which has put all 16 of it’s neighborhood homes into quarantine is also asking for donations. That website is www.mhihouston.org