The effects of COVID-19 are widespread, but for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, the pandemic is hitting especially hard. But with COVID-19 protocols in place and additional funding provided through the CARES Act, one homeless shelter in Flagstaff is paving the way.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) received just over $22 million through the CARES Act from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) for homeless service providers throughout the state. These special ESG-CV funds were distributed to states to prevent, prepare for and respond to the impacts of coronavirus pandemic on individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness or receiving homeless assistance, and to support homelessness prevention services and assistance mitigating the impacts of COVID-19.
Flagstaff Shelter Services was established in 2006 to provide emergency shelter and basic services to persons experiencing homelessness. In May 2020, with the ESG funding provided by DES, Flagstaff Shelter Services secured three motels and roughly 175 rooms to provide motel vouchers to individuals in need of shelter.
The three motels all serve a different purpose: one is dedicated to those who have contracted COVID-19, another to individuals who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 (ex: age and underlying health conditions), and the last is available to the general population experiencing homelessness. In addition to the motels, Flagstaff Shelter Services is still allowing individuals to stay at the physical shelter with protocols in place, such as mandatory face coverings, hand washing stations, access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and extremely limited bed capacity to allow for social distancing.
“The DES funding has been instrumental for us to provide a response to people experiencing homelessness,” said Ross Altenbaugh, Executive Director for Flagstaff Shelter Services “It’s been a game changer.”
Flagstaff Shelter Services has been providing motel space for approximately 220 people since early May, and as a result, has seen a flat line among people experiencing homelessness and COVID-19 in the Flagstaff area. All motels and shelters provided are thoroughly cleaned and individuals are tested for COVID-19 every few weeks. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 in one of the non-COVID-19 specific motels, Flagstaff Shelter Services works with Coconino County to transfer them to the COVID-specific motel.
“Housing is healthcare,” said Altenbaugh. “We’re extremely grateful for this additional funding and that it’s working so well.”
For more information on services for people experiencing homelessness, please visit the DES website.