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Mountain West Cities Confront Homeless People's Vulnerability To COVID-19

Bunks at City Light Home for Women and Children in Boise, Idaho.
Madelyn Beck
/
Mountain West New Bureau
Bunks at City Light Home for Women and Children in Boise, Idaho.

Just being homeless puts you at greater risk for getting and spreading COVID-19. And several homeless residents have tested positive for the disease around the Mountain West, from Denver to Las Vegas. That’s forcing community leaders and shelter owners to take precautions.

 Click 'play' to hear the audio version of this story.

Jodi Peterson-Stigers, executive director of the Boise shelter Interfaith Sanctuary, said officials there are now stopping by shelters with mobile testing units to test those with symptoms, which may give some residents peace of mind.

“When you have no home, and you know that the best way to not get sick is to self-contain, that’s a lot of pressure,” Peterson-Stigers said. “You’ve got to figure it out in your own way. And so we’re trying to give them all the resources to be able to do that.”

She said Boise has been lucky so far. One hotel has stepped up to house the most vulnerable residents.

Several cities in the Mountain West have already seen positive cases, and there’s a growing acknowledgement that this could grow into a bigger problem as the outbreak spreads.

Las Vegas just opened an emergency outdoor shelter in a parking lot. That happened after a homeless person tested positive for COVID-19, prompting a shelter to temporarily close its doors.

“We are focused on public safety, keeping everyone safe, giving them a safe place to be and giving them a safe place where they can social distance, as is the requirements that have been passed down to everybody,” said Jace Radke, a spokesperson for the city.

In Denver, two homeless people who have tested positive, which has advocates anticipating a surge in cases.

“Two positive cases means we probably have more coming,” Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, told The Colorado Sun.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.
Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.
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