Changes in Detroit homeless system due to COVID-19

March 19th, 2020
Shyra and her two daughters with Jayden, who is Denise’s son, at Southwest Solutions’ Housing Resource Center

(last updated March 30)

Denise and Shyra both currently live in the same shelter in Detroit for single mothers. They’ve been there for over two months.  With their kids, they came to our Housing Resource Center (HRC) in mid-March because they were worried they would have to leave the shelter soon because of the rule that you can only stay in the same shelter for 90 consecutive days.

Before they could enter the HRC, a staff member screened the two families for possible COVID-19 symptoms and exposure, and also took the temperatures of the mothers and their kids. Denise and Shyra certainly understood the need for such precautions during these difficult times. Their families passed the screening.

Speaking to staff inside, Denise and Shyra were relieved to learn that the 90-day rule has been waived until the coronavirus crisis subsides. Denise and Shyra also wanted to check on their pending applications for subsidized housing.

The HRC is one of multiple Access Points for the Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM), which is the concerted effort by homeless providers and stakeholders to address homelessness in Detroit. The HRC has served as the Access Point for families with children and for unaccompanied youth. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are evolving changes in the CAM to try to control the possible spread of the virus. The homeless population is particularly vulnerable to the outbreak, and if the virus is introduced into this population, it will be very difficult to contain.

UPDATE: CAM has suspended operation of all in-person CAM Access Points, except for the two sites for veterans.  Instead of the in-person Access Points, CAM will operate a phone line 7 days a week from 7:00am to 8:30pm. The number is (313) 484-4449. See the flyer for details.

The City of Detroit is closely monitoring the situation at all shelters in the city and is ensuring that personal protective equipment is available and being used. The City has launched a testing program for homeless individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19. Individuals at shelters who are ill are being transported to facilities that the City has set up. Once there, each individual has a private room so they will not be exposed to others. Medical staff will then determine if each individual needs to be taken to the hospital, held for further observation, or is well enough to return to the shelter.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation and the response of the Detroit homeless system will change accordingly.

After leaving the HRC, Denise and Shyra returned to the shelter. Their homeless situation exemplifies many issues with housing in the city.

Both had been renting single-family houses and had to leave for different reasons. The house where Denise lived had lead contamination. As a result, her young son Jayden now has health and learning disability problems.

“Because my son has a compromised immune system, I am so scared for him because of the coronavirus,” Denise said.

Denise had been working full-time at a Detroit restaurant, but it shut down following the Governor’s executive order. The restaurant will pay Denise for two weeks, but she is worried about the future of her job and how she will continue to support herself.

“I’m afraid about my son going hungry and how we’re going to pay our rent once we can move out of the shelter,” Denise said.

The house that Shyra and her two young daughters were renting went into foreclosure after the owner failed to pay the property taxes.

“We were given only 30 days to move out and that’s why we ended up in a shelter,” Shyra said.

Shyra works for a food manufacturer and she, too, is worried about being laid off if the economy goes into a recession because of the outbreak.

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