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Here’s How West Coast Cities Are Trying to Protect the Homeless from Coronavirus

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.Cities on the West Coast are starting to take steps to protect their homeless populations from coronavirus, which could threaten people who can’t easily isolate themselves from the public. In Washington, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak that’s already sickened 200 people, Seattle…

Here’s How West Coast Cities Are Trying to Protect the Homeless from Coronavirus

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Cities on the West Coast are starting to take steps to protect their homeless populations from coronavirus, which could threaten people who can’t easily isolate themselves from the public.

In Washington, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak that’s already sickened 200 people, Seattle is adding shelter beds in the next few weeks to ensure fewer people are forced to sleep outdoors in unsanitary conditions. Officials in the Portland area are also asking shelters to space their beds further apart — at least six feet if people are coughing. And city council members in Los Angeles are advocating for more hand-washing stations at the city’s numerous homeless encampments so people can better meet the CDC’s recommendations for prevention.

Seattle is taking the most drastic measures of all the West Coast cities to protect its regional population of more than 11,000 homeless. Officials there announced Thursday that they’d soon try to move at least 100 homeless people indoors. But the city is also coping with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. so far, stemming from a cluster of cases in a suburban nursing home.

Seattle’s new shelter spaces will be online in two to three weeks, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a press conference Thursday, adding they’ll be spread across two tiny-home villages and a former treatment facility. For now, the sites won’t be for quarantine or isolation purposes but rather just to get people out of harm’s way. As of Thursday afternoon, King County hadn’t seen any homeless patients among its 50-plus coronavirus cases.

If homeless people do become sick, the county also announced it’ll find a place for them to self-isolate — since they obviously can’t quarantine in a place of their own. King County just purchased a “quarantine” motel to isolate patients who can’t go to their own homes for a variety of reasons.

“We know we need to take additional measures to bring more of our unsheltered community inside,” Durkan said in a statement. “Our neighbors experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, and as a city, region, and country we must act with urgency to address the ongoing impacts of this public health crisis.”

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