Due to a spike in COVID-19 cases across Orange County’s homeless shelters, Fullerton’s Navigation Center run by Illumination Foundation is being used as a site for homeless residents who have contracted COVID-19.
This operational change took place over the weekend as residents from other facilities who had contracted COVID-19 were moved into the Fullerton shelter, and those who had tested negative were moved to other facilities, including motels.
“There is a high number of COVID-19-positive cases throughout Orange County and this vulnerable population is no different,” Terry Campbell, VP of Marketing and Communications at Illumination Foundation, told the Observer. “We are isolating COVID-19-positive cases at the Fullerton Navigation and Recuperative Care Center because the size of the building can best handle this need.”
Illumination Foundation is working in tandem with other shelter operators…to handle as many clients as possible and they have created a fluid situation, according to Campbell.
“Like hospitals across the State and County, homeless shelters and centers are reaching maximum capacity due to COVID-19,” Campbell said. “Our efforts are designed to lessen the burden on hospitals and our healthcare systems where ICU beds are at 0% capacity in Orange County.”
According to Jason Austin, Director of the County Office of Care Coordination, “We can confirm that we are using the Fullerton Navigation Center as one of our sites for individuals experiencing homelessness who are either COVID-19 positive or symptomatic.”
“Unfortunately, this is exactly why we have been pushing the use of single occupancy options [such as hotel rooms],” Brooke Weitzman, directing attorney with the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, told the Observer. “In congregate settings with shared bathrooms and dozens of people sleeping and breathing the same air in each room, the outbreaks of COVID-19 seem almost inevitable. The guidance from the CDC and State have called for making hygiene available, getting private rooms with bathrooms when possible, and providing the services needed to ‘shelter’ in place for anyone else so they aren’t moved into these congregate settings. We have seen similar issues in other counties when people are in congregate living situations during a pandemic.”
In October, the County decided to end Project Roomkey, the program that sheltered elderly and disabled homeless people at high risk for COVID-19 in motels, replacing it with Project Toolbelt, and restricting new applicants.
“None of this would be happening if the County had not shut down Project Roomkey while there was still funding,” Weitzman said.
A resident who lives at the shelter and recently tested positive for COVID-19 said that communication with residents has been lacking during the numerous operational changes over the past week, as COVID-19 cases have continued to rise.
When the residents were tested, “Instead of telling us, they just escorted the people who were negative or inconclusive to these motels. They brought the negatives out and left the positives in, but they didn’t tell the people they were positive until the following day.”
The resident said that staff at the Fullerton Navigation Center have also been “apathetic, understaffed, and frustrated.” Due to the new changes at the Navigation Center, activities have been nonexistent. “We’re just in our bed, or you go to watch TV in the TV room, or you watch TV in the kitchen area, and that’s about it, and there’s a 10 o’clock curfew to be in bed at night,” the resident said.
The resident said that the Center has been filling up with COVID-19-positive residents from other shelters around the County, including Salvation Army in Anaheim, and Mary’s Kitchen in Santa Ana.
The Observer received word that all the shelters in Anaheim have been in quarantine all week and are not receiving new clients. These new restrictions and lockdowns could impact cities’ ability to enforce anti-camping ordinances at this time.
“For vehicle dwellers and unsheltered people in this moment of crisis, sheltering in place, wherever that is, seems necessary for community health,” Weitzman said.
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