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Lane County Opens Two Homeless Respite Centers During Pandemic

Melorie Begay/KLCC News

Two shelter locations have opened this week in Eugene and Springfield that will operate 24/7. The aim is to give the unhoused refuge during the state mandated “Stay at Home” order. Meals, hygiene, medical care, and sanitization will be provided for individuals staying at the respite centers.

Together the Lane Events Center, in Eugene, and the Willamalane Memorial Building, in Springfield, are expected to shelter more than 100 people, mainly single adults. That number had originally been around 300-350 on Thursday morning.

The Springfield site, that opens Friday, was supposed to serve up to 100 guests, but that's been scaled down to 32 because of social distancing requirements, said Lane County Public Health spokesperson Jason Davis.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Sleeping mats inside the Willamalane Memorial Building in Springfield are placed 6 feet apart to comply with social distancing recommendations. This is one of two respite sites Lane County will use during the pandemic.

“We are learning as we go, and we’re trying to do what would normally be done in a matter of months, in days,” Davis said. He said they have to consider not only spacing mats 6 feet apart, but also the amount of space needed for folks to move around.

Saint Vincent DePaul is managing the sites and Occupy Medical is providing medical services. Medical staff will screen guests for coronavirus and other upper respiratory illnesses upon entering the locations.

“We’re looking for mild upper-respiratory symptoms. We’re not looking at putting those individuals who have severe symptoms back into a congregate living setting,” Davis said. Those with a fever, or more severe symptoms, David said, may receive additional care from a hospital, or go into isolation onsite.

Generally, healthy individuals staying in the shelter won’t be required to stay once they’ve been processed.

“Their lodging at the shelter is 100 percent voluntary, so the idea is not to lock people in by any means whatsoever. This is absolutely just trying to adhere to the governor’s orders that really affect all of our communities across Lane County,” he said.

Due to limited capacity, outreach teams have been going around the county identifying homeless people in need of shelter. Walk-ins will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but Davis said no one will be turned away.

Credit Melorie Begay/KLCC News
Unhoused individuals using the sites will have access to soap and water to wash their hands, and other hygiene necessities.

As of Thursday, the shelter in Eugene was already near capacity. Davis said the county has additional sites in mind should they need it.“ He adds that as the county reaches capacity at the shelters, they will look to community partners fro the ability to expand on those current options. 

“We’re doing everything we can to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19, but ultimately all of our considerations will be based on the current situation as we see it in our area,” he said.

Asked about what the community can do to support the respite centers, Davis said they’re working on a way to donate funds and accept volunteers. In the meantime, he advises people to stay home.

“We’re putting in all this effort for this one group of people to stay at home, the least everyone else can do is go ahead and stay at home themselves, and make sure that the effort that we’re putting in so much resources in works.”

© 2020 KLCC

Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.