Coronavirus Chicago: Mayor Lightfoot announces measures to support homeless during COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday new measures to support Chicago's homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Dozens in the city's homeless population live in tent cities along the Dan Ryan Expressway. They already have a lot to worry about, including food and shelter. Now they've added COVID-19 to the list.

"I'm concerned about it," said Betty Strickland, one of the few homeless in the tent city who wears a mask. "That's why I don't stay at Pacific Gardens, because they are too close together."

In response to concerns about the homeless, Mayor Lightfoot announced the establishment of a citywide system to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in shelters and encampments.

"This effort has required the unprecedented mobilization of our city workforce in collaboration with medical providers, shelter operators and advocacy organizations centering on both prevention and response," Lightfoot said.

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Last week, the city started taking some homeless people to YMCAs or hotel rooms in order to free up hospital beds. On Monday, Mayor Lightfoot announced an additional partnership with the Salvation Army to provide 699 beds, including facilities for women and children and other beds for those diagnosed with the virus.

"When it comes to those who are vulnerable, they are in need now. And we have to respond continuously to fill the void and address the need for vulnerable populations," Lightfoot said.

Additional steps announced Monday include enlisting medical professionals to work with shelter staff on symptom screening as well as the distribution of more than 25,000 pieces pf personal protection equipment to shelter staff and residents. Mayor Lightfoot also announced additional testing for shelter residents and staff.

"From the beginning, we knew that people living in homeless shelters would be at especially high risk," said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. " "We knew COVID-19 could spread quickly and undetected among people like this, who are among our most vulnerable."

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The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services has also visited encampments to respond to needs as well as to install portable bathrooms and handwashing stations.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said they are grateful for the focus on that population, but they are concerned many of those with criminal records or mental health issues may be excluded from getting help.

"All of us get to stay in homes and stay safe from exposure, but the homeless don't have a home and they have no choice," said Julie Dworkin, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
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