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Shelters Could See An Even Greater Backlog Of Homeless People


Homeless shelters across South Florida continue to serve the most vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak. But the economic shock could keep people who are still awaiting a chance for shelter on the streets.


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Some residents at Camillus House in Miami, who had found steady jobs and were ready to leave the facilities, are now unemployed because of mass layoffs related to COVID-19.

It put a halt in the movement of those leaving the shelter, and CEO Hilda Fernandez said it creates a ripple effect.

“That bed that would have likely become available is not available for that person who is out on the street who really would rather come into a sheltered environment at this time,” Fernandez said.

There are currently no walk-in shelters in Miami-Dade County and homeless must go through a coordinated entry process. Those seeking shelter must contact the Homeless Helpline, where they are referred to shelters or services through an outreach program. 

Shelters in the county report their bed availability every morning, and people are then placed on a first come first serve basis.

“The need for shelter is as great as it has always been,” Fernandez said. But unemployment for residents who already live on the verge of homelessness, could create a backlog and an even longer waiting list.

“Our clients already face an uphill battle when finding employment,” she said.

Homeless shelters have had to take precautionary measures in the time of COVID-19.

At Camillus House, the buildings go through intense cleaning every day. A day-long process of disinfecting surfaces, and using ozone generators overnight.

Fernandez says they screen their clients daily also, checking temperatures and supervising them as they wash their hands.

They’re even using Telehealth.

“We’re doing teleconferencing with a lot of our clients, so we can continue to provide individual counseling to our clients but in a safer way,” Fernandez said. 


Despite applying social distancing rules in daily operations, such as scheduling different meal times by floor and urging sheltering-in-place within the facility, the residents still share dorms.

The dorms group two to six people, each having to share one kitchen and one bathroom.

“If we were to go into something that was limiting one person to a room, … we’d have to make probably 150 people homeless. There’s no way to accommodate that,” Fernandez said.

Camillus House continues to offer free breakfast throughout the week, and shower access twice a week for the street homeless.

Now, as residents stay put in the facility to obey the county’s shelter-in-place orders, the shelter is making up to 1,300 meals a day.

“We don’t have the option of closing our doors,” Fernandez said. “Or saying that we’re going to wait this out and save ourselves expenses. It’s the opposite. Our doors stay open and we have incremental expenses.”


Sherrilyn Cabrera is WLRN's PM newscast and digital producer.
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