During a rainy afternoon, Marcel Williams, second from right, takes shelter with others outside of the San Diego Central Library, March 18, 2020. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

Updated: 5:30 p.m., March 19, 2020

A person removed from the shelter run by Father Joe’s Village has tested negative for COVID-19, the nonprofit reported Thursday afternoon.

The person was the first to be placed in isolation in one of the motel rooms the county acquired to temporarily house people awaiting test results. Others who may have come in contact with the person were placed in quarantine. With the negative test results, the quarantine and isolation have been lifted, according to a news release from Father Joe’s.

The San Diego Housing Commission has lifted the temporary suspension on Father Joe’s that kept the shelter from taking in new homeless people for two nights this week. A spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office said shelters run by Veterans Village of San Diego and PATH, as well as an Alpha Project shelter at 17th Street and Imperial Avenue, have begun accepting new people. All of the shelters that suspended new intakes receive funding from the city of San Diego.

Two others that fall into that category are still not accepting people, said Ashley Bailey with the Mayor’s Office. She said that “our teams are working on solutions” to that.

Some San Diego shelters again open to new homeless people

Updated: 11:45 a.m., March 19, 2020

As of Thursday morning, the homeless shelter run by Veterans Village of San Diego and Alpha Project’s shelter at 17th Street and Imperial Avenue have begun accepting new people, Ashley Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office, said.

After closing new intakes at seven city-funded homeless shelters Tuesday, the San Diego Housing Commission has reviewed most shelters for spacing requirements and is beginning to let them reopen, Bailey said. The shelters are required to have their beds three to six feet apart, in an effort to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading among the city’s homeless population, she said.

Shelters run by Father Joe’s Villages and PATH are expected to begin taking new people by this afternoon, Bailey said. It’s not yet known if all of the city-funded shelters will be open Thursday to new people.

Bob McElroy, Alpha Project CEO, said two trailers ‒ about 10 feet by 20 feet ‒ were parked late Wednesday on site at the nonprofit’s 17th Street shelter and at its Newton Avenue shelter. They will be used to quarantine people showing flu-like symptoms before receiving services, he said Thursday.

San Diego homeless shelters stop accepting new people over COVID-19 concerns

Originally published: 8:42 p.m., March 18, 2020

Seven homeless shelters funded by the city of San Diego are temporarily refusing to accept new people to help stop the novel coronavirus from spreading, the San Diego Housing Commission said Wednesday.

That decision was made to give the commission, as well as city and county leaders, time to identify and isolate individuals who are already in the shelters and might be showing symptoms, said Lisa Jones, senior vice president of the agency’s Homeless Housing Innovations Department.

Why this matters

San Diego County officials learned during the 2017 Hepatitis A outbreak that the homeless population is among the most vulnerable to infectious disease. Because of that, the actions county leaders are taking to protect the homeless from COVID-19 are being carefully watched.

She said it also gives officials time to ensure people are keeping their distance from each other, which is a recommended protocol to curtail spread of the virus. It only affects shelters that contract with the commission.

“It is not anticipated to be a permanent suspension of intakes at this time,” Jones said in an email.

The county had 80 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as of Wednesday. That’s up from 60 on Tuesday.

No cases have so far emerged in San Diego’s homeless population, Dr. Jeffrey Norris, medical director at Father Joe’s Villages, said at a Wednesday morning news conference.

But Father Joe’s and the Alpha Project, two of the city’s major homeless service nonprofits, removed people with flu-like symptoms from their homeless shelters Tuesday, officials with both groups said.

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A nurse at an Alpha Project shelter told one person to go to the emergency room to get tested for COVID-19, said Bob McElroy, the nonprofit’s CEO.

Turns out, he said, the person had a case of rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. McElroy was thankful it wasn’t the coronavirus.

“If we get someone inside (a shelter) who has it, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he told inewsource.

A person who was symptomatic in an interim shelter Father Joe’s operates became the first to move into one of the 1,472 motel rooms the county has acquired to temporarily house people awaiting test results, or those who may be directed to quarantine. The person has been tested and results are expected in 24 hours, Norris said.

Norris was sitting right next to Deacon Jim Vargas, president of Father Joe’s Villages, during the morning news conference, despite the county’s repeated direction for people to keep six feet apart.

Do you have information that could further inewsource’s mission of holding officials and institutions accountable in the COVID-19 pandemic? Help make sure our journalism is responsible and focused on the right issues. Reach out at contact@inewsource.org

Clarification: March 18, 2020
The story’s headline has been updated to make clear it’s San Diego homeless shelters that are temporarily refusing to accept new people.

Cody Dulaney is an investigative reporter at inewsource focusing on social impact and government accountability. Few things excite him more than building spreadsheets and knocking on the door of people who refuse to return his calls. When he’s not ruffling the feathers of some public official, Cody...