Nashville homeless advocates pushing city to find place to house those who test positive for COVID-19

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – During a routine meeting of the Continuum of Care Homelessness Planning Council Wednesday morning, members discussed concerns over where to place the homeless community if they test positive for COVID-19. 

In March of 2020, the city opened a COVID-19 overflow shelter at the Fairgrounds to provide the population a place to live while waiting for COVID-19 test results or to recover following a diagnosis. 

In April 2021, after metro’s vaccination rollout increased and the number of new cases decreased, the Office of Emergency Management announced plans to close the shelter in phases. It officially closed in early July. 

Paula Foster, Executive Director of Open Table Nashville and also a member of the council, discussed a recent exposure at The Nashville Rescue Mission. Approximately 200 residents were exposed to the virus. Neighborhood Health tested 60 people on July 2 at the mission and there were a total of 10 positives or 17 percent. 

Two-hundred people were exposed to the virus; 69 were tested with 17 percent receiving a positive result. Foster says her organization footed the bill to house them, but were reimbursed by Metro Social Services. 

Some members of the council agreed that this is a serious issue and needs to be addressed immediately, especially with the rising spread of the Delta variant. Others assured they have been in touch with Metro Public Health and a concrete plan is being put in motion. They believe it should be a collaborative effort. 

“We still to date have not been invited to the table,” Foster said. “As service providers who work with folks everyday, it’s become a dictate instead of a collaborative effort and we need more input.” 

Councilman Freddie O’Connell also attended the meeting and wants to know why advocates and city leaders’ suggestion of using federal money to pay for hotel vouchers in 2020 was not accepted and isn’t being revisited. 

The council plans to collect questions and take them directly to city leaders. 

We reached out to Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s office and Metro Public Health about whether or not a plan has been created. MPHD and the Office of Emergency Management sent News 2 the following statement:

“First, it is important to point out that at no time was there “nowhere” to send a person under investigation (PUI) or positive COVID cases among the homeless. Temporary housing was made available for those who needed it at that time. 

“The Metro Public Health Department, OEM, Nashville Rescue Mission, Metro Social Services began holding meetings to plan for the eventual closing of the Fairgrounds shelter in April.  As you know, the Fairgrounds shelter closed at the end of June.  At that time the Nashville Rescue Mission said they would be able to accommodate PUI/positive cases. 

“There were multiple meetings and an open dialogue with the Nashville Rescue Mission during that process. 

“The above agencies have had numerous meetings and contacted other community partners in an effort to identify temporary housing that would include an isolation shelter if needed. 

“These plans continue to be developed as our collective work to have a plan for our homeless community is finalized. 

“Our planning is focused on a plan for all of our shelters if they have issues with housing PUI/Positive Cases. The Nashville Rescue Mission is just one.

“OEM continues to develop our plan with our fellow metro agencies including MPHD and Metro Social Services to effectively house our homeless population should the need arise.

“We have been in contact on a daily basis working on this plan. I wanted to also point out we have made site visits to the NRM to help identify space and capacity to allow for the housing of PUI/ Positive Cases. Throughout this process our departments have had direct contact with NRM leadership. 

“The plan, when we have it finalized and is approved by those involved, will spell out capacity limits that would activate an isolation shelter by metro and/or quarantining a complete facility.”

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