Homelessness and Coronavirus: What Bay Area Counties Are Doing — And How You Can Help


The state is also distributing $100 million of the emergency funding to cities and counties to support shelter services and respond to the outbreak among homeless residents in their communities.

Assuming a potential 56% attack rate, state public health officials anticipate some 60,000 homeless people could contract COVID-19, Newsom said, just one of the many scenarios the state is modeling. If it manifests, California would need upwards of 19,000 new hospital beds, he said.

“That creates a deep point of anxiety for the existing population but moreover for our health care delivery system,” Newsom said, “and our capacity to move people in and out of the shelter safely without contacting other people and putting them at risk.”

The intensified search for places where people living in encampments and shelters can self-isolate came just three days after a man in Santa Clara County became the first person in California experiencing homelessness to die of COVID-19.

The Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department declined to say where the man was living or if he could have exposed others to the virus. But news of his death had many people in the South Bay’s homeless communities on edge.

Public health officials said that the virus can spread more quickly in shelters and encampments because of the close proximity to others and limited access to clean water and soap.

Homeless people are also more vulnerable to the disease because many have underlying health conditions. Last year, 12% of the county’s homeless population was 61 years old or older, according to the county’s biennial homeless count.

“If this begins to spread, there will be a lot of casualties,” said Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Network of Santa Clara County. “So people are upset and fearful.”

Here is what Bay Area counties are doing to protect residents who are homeless and how you can help:

San Francisco

On March 10, San Francisco city officials announced they had leased 30 RVs to house people who were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 and needed to self-isolate. It also identified more than 8,000 to potentially house people who need to be quarantined.

The city also appropriated $5 million to expand cleaning at shelters, resource centers and residential hotels. It will also use that money to increase meal offerings and expand shelter hours.

San Jose

City officials in San Jose have distributed hand washing stations, portable toilets and clean water to 14 encampments, as well as arranged for trash pickup. San Jose has also paused sweeps of encampments and halted evictions of renters who have lost income from the COVID-19 health emergency.

The city is also partnering with the nonprofit WeHOPE to operate a mobile medical trailer with virtual doctor’s visits. The organization will help distribute hygiene kits with hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, fresh fruit and healthy snacks to encampments on a bi-weekly basis.

Santa Clara

Santa Clara County officials say they have offered guidance in multiple languages to people living in shelters and in encampments and given that same guidance to homeless services providers. The county is deploying mobile healthcare teams to first help homeless seniors or people who have underlying health conditions. And officials say they are developing a plan to distribute hand washing stations, portable toilets and clean water to encampments.

To bring more people inside, Santa Clara County said it is working to expand shelters. This would also allow people to have more space inside the shelters for social distancing. It’s also working to provide shelters with more hygiene kits, medical supplies and washers and dryers. In addition, the county said it is looking at finding properties for people living in shelters who might need to quarantine.

As of Wednesday, however, it was unclear how soon additional housing and hygiene kits would be available.


Oakland city officials have installed 42 hand washing stations and portable toilets at 19 encampments and increased garbage pickup at camps. Outreach teams are distributing hygiene supplies to encampments, community cabin sites, and RV Safe Parking sites. City officials say, barring any public health concerns, it will refrain from carrying out scheduled encampment sweeps during the COVID-19 health crisis.

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