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Sean Keenan Columns

How Atlanta is testing, isolating its homeless population during coronavirus pandemic

Sean Keenan

By Sean Keenan

The novel coronavirus outbreak has jolted Atlanta’s homeless population in a way not experienced by most of the city’s residents, sending indigent people scrambling for safe places to take refuge and for safe sources of food.

In response to the mounting public health crisis, Atlanta officials are investing $1.5 million to help shelter and feed individuals at a high risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The move adds to a $1 million investment by the city that helps test, transport and isolate homeless people. Those who test positive for the disease are moved to a downtown hotel—the “isolation hotel,” officials have called it—to prevent further outbreaks.

The new funding is projected to convert another local hotel into housing for more than 200 people experiencing homelessness, said Cathryn Marchman, executive director of Partners for Home, a nonprofit managing homeless services for the city. (Officials have not revealed the location of either hotel.)

Healthcare workers at a Mercy Care COVID-19 testing site. (Credit: Mercy Care)

The repurposed hotel would provide needed shelter, food and housing placement services for a portion of the city’s thousands of homeless, Marchman said in a recent interview with SaportaReport. The $1.5 million, plus a match from the private sector, would support this effort for three months.

Additionally, thanks to a partnership with Fulton County—as well as “a little bit of luck,” Marchman said—local healthcare-focused nonprofit Mercy Care received $200,000 to test Atlanta’s homeless population for COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is helping with the testing, too.

(Credit: Mercy Care)

“I think it’s divine intervention, myself,” said Mercy Care CEO Tom Andrews in a recent interview with SaportaReport. By Thursday, he added, the organization will have tested roughly 1,200 residents and staff members from local shelters.

And more testing is on the horizon, he said. Between this upcoming Sunday and Tuesday, Mercy Care expects to test upwards of 700 more people—mostly unsheltered homeless folks who come to churches, soup kitchens and other places where supportive services are offered.

Partners for Home is also recruiting staff to help address the pandemic. Click here for more information.

(Header image: Mercy Care)

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