In response to the COVID-19, or the new coronavirus, pandemic, Berkeley City Council approved a recommendation to develop strategies to address the needs of vulnerable populations, including the homeless community, on March 17.
The recommendation calls for the citywide distribution of COVID-19 information through fliers and bulletin boards; an increase in the number of portable restrooms and hand-washing stations at encampments and areas with a concentrated homeless community; and the allowance of advocates to continue providing resources to homeless populations amid the pandemic.
On March 18, California Gov. Gavin Newsom also authorized $150 million in emergency funding for local governments to fund emergency support for homeless individuals.
“People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19,” Newsom said in a press release.
Berkeley’s homeless community has seen its first suspected case of COVID-19 in an encampment, according to a Thursday press release from Osha Neumann, co-director for the East Bay Community Law Center.
The situation has revealed that Berkeley’s homeless encampments are unable to implement social distancing, according to Neumann’s press release. The residents of these encampments also lack disease-protective gear such as gloves, masks and thermometers, the press release adds.
“After COVID-19 passes, I hope people never forget how essential it is for everyone to have their own place in the world,” said Yesica Prado, former vice chair of the Homeless Services Panel of Experts, in an email. “A place to call home.”
According to Prado, while the mayor has discussed sheltering members of the homeless community in hotel rooms, this has yet to be realized.
Additionally, Prado said, although new hand-washing stations have been introduced, they fall short of demand. Prado added that portable restrooms and mobile showers for the homeless community are needed as a result of public facilities being closed during the crisis.
“Public places where unhoused residents access showers and restrooms are closed, so we can’t even meet our most basic needs to stay clean,” Prado said in an email. “In a pandemic, are we not supposed to maintain our hygiene?”
Lead organizer for the “Where do we go?” campaign Andrea Henson voiced similar concerns about the homeless community.
According to Henson, the city distributed travel-sized hand sanitizer and informational pamphlets about COVID-19 to the homeless population. Henson added, however, that the community needs more support, such as additional grocery deliveries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also temporarily paused city plans regarding the homeless community. According to Prado, the city had been working on a safe-parking program to offer services to RV residents that has now been delayed.
“If the city or state doesn’t come, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Henson said. “As of yet, they haven’t.”