At the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, we have continued to emphasize that homeless is a community issue- it will not be solved by one government or non-profit agency alone. Now more than ever, we are proud to lead the system of care that sits together at the same table with a shared vision of a community where every individual has a place to call home and the resources to live their best life. This shared vision and established partnership have been key to a successful COVID-19 response.
As concerns around COVID-19 began to grow, we increased our coordination and response to people experiencing homelessness. By working around the clock with over 35 partner agencies to coordinate services, we have been able to see a significant difference in the impact this virus could have had on our already vulnerable neighbors. Coordination efforts included creating overflow shelter, food provision to decompress meal times, supply needs and distribution, isolation space for symptomatic and diagnosed patients, restroom and washroom provision, creating client education pieces, and a campaign to encourage new ways for the community to get involved to help meet partner organizations’ urgent needs.
Right now is an unsettling time for anyone, but for those experiencing homelessness, it can be even more so. Often times people without a place to call home are already trying to survive a chronic illness through less than ideal circumstances. Factor in that those most susceptible to Coronavirus are in fact those living with compromised immune systems, it was apparent that we had an entire system facing a unique set of challenges we needed to find a solution and find it quickly.
With Emergency Shelters quickly decreasing to 50% capacity during social distancing concerns, the first step became finding a way to open overflow shelter that created a solution to allow for isolation and quarantine protocols for those exposed. Because of support from city and county leaders and their teams in Fort Worth and Arlington, it only took about 5 days for this solution to be found for our community. After this, we were able to quickly shift our focus to creating a COVID-19 Phase I response that helped maintain the service capacity of each agency throughout this crisis.
Within a week local service providers, healthcare workers, and city and county officials were all working together for the common goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19 while working hard to continue providing services to those who need us most during this time. We have found that as with all coordination efforts, communication was the key to success. Everyday partners come together for round table discussions on updates and needs for the community and receive daily communication via email.
Discussion agendas include:
But what about life after the pandemic? Many essential services were delayed as in-person meetings with case managers were not allowed and many in our population do not possess phones to conduct virtual case management meetings. A new wave of technology is being introduced in our community to overcome this issue and help speed the outflow of our clients into housing. Organizations have become more agile and adaptable to engage the emerging issues that confront our community. The entirety of our homeless services network is committed to embracing a new way of operating.
As we remain thankful for a community that has worked together throughout this new normal, we recognize that much remains to be done, and our system as a whole has been forced to take an honest and revealing look at how it operates. Strategic plans are being adjusted to amplify our strengths and shore up our weaknesses.
Efforts are now being shifted to what the future of COVID-19 looks like, and as we shift to a Phase II approach we are looking at how we best adapt to protect the sub-populations during that are most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness through rehousing and non-congregate sheltering, restoring system capacity and scaling-up housing, increasing diversion and other high impact interventions, while also looking at what efforts to ramp down overflow shelter would mean for our community.
Of all the valuable lessons our community learned while facing down COVID-19, one stands above.
United together, we can achieve wondrous things.