Today, the City of Fort Collins intends to begin shutting down the encampment in Heritage Park. The Fort Collins Homeless Coalition is deeply concerned by this move, and believes that the City should not clear the encampment before everyone is safely housed in individual or family housing.
The CDC has this to say about closing encampments:
“Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”(1)
This recommendation is in place for the duration of the pandemic, and is not contingent on any stay at home order. The City of Fort Collins is defying CDC guidelines during this pandemic, creating risks for vulnerable people and community health.
The encampment has porta-johns, trash services, and access to hand-washing – all necessities for personal and public health. With the encampment closing, people are being forced to choose between staying in congregate shelters or dispersing to areas that do not have bathrooms, health services, or hygiene facilities. People who sleep outdoors or in vehicles will face a renewed threat of camping tickets and continued dispersal, in continued violation of CDC guidelines and humanitarian principles. This is not a solution to homelessness, and is particularly dangerous right now.
This pandemic is shining a spotlight on many radical injustices in our society. Universal housing has always been the solution to homelessness, but the ability of housing to literally save lives has been headline news for months now. A recent report from the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University suggested that people experiencing homelessness who are infected with COVID-19 will be twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die from the illness as the housed population.(2) Moreover, there is significant evidence emerging that asymptomatic transmission is highly likely in congregate shelters, including among younger and apparently healthy people.(3)
Organizations, including Homeward Alliance and the Health District of Northern Colorado, have been working hard to implement crucial health improvements at our congregate shelters. We understand that they are also trying to find ways to safely expand to include the influx of highly-vulnerable guests from the encampment, despite the challenges involved. We applaud these efforts, and deeply appreciate the hard-working and overwhelmed people involved. However, while congregate shelters can take steps to improve sanitation and crowding, they are not able to offer the same level of safety & health that individual and family housing does. Congregate shelters have always failed to meet the needs of many…
In the absence of housing, vehicles and tents may actually be the best option available for many to self-isolate and socially-distance. Tents offer individual space, fresh air, and the opportunity to choose your neighbors. In a shelter, hundreds of people share the same air and touch the same surfaces. Significant research supports the fact that congregate shelters are not safe places during pandemics, and municipalities are being urged to find non-congregate options (including hotel rooms) for people experiencing homelessness. While they work on this, a safe outdoor space simply makes sense.
The Fort Collins Homeless Coalition has joined with homeless people and organizations across the state in filing legal action against the State of Colorado for not doing its job to protect all Coloradans by providing housing, which is well-within its emergency powers during this epidemic. After 21 days of good-faith negotiations with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Department of Health has chosen to file a request for extension of time in response to Plaintiff’s Extraordinary Petition, therefore using court processes and delay tactics to wait out this epidemic and evade responsibility for the health and well being of the homeless and overall safety of the people of this State. Tens of thousands of people who are homeless across the State are still living in mass shelters and on the streets. Countless service providers are being stretched to their limits, trying to cope with the current and expected tsunami of need, and have been urgently joining the call for housing. We are united across our state and our community in demanding that governments care for all of us.
(1) Center for Disease Control, “People Experiencing Homelessness and Covid-19: Interim Guidelines.” Online at: https://tinyurl.com/y8kq69ea
(2) Dennis Culhane et. al., “Estimated Emergency and Observational/Quarantine CapacityNeed for the US Homeless Population Related to COVID-19 Exposureby County; Projected Hospitalizations,Intensive Care Units and Mortality.” March 27, 2020. Online at: https://tinyurl.com/tqmfg2g
(3) Waldstein, David, “CDC Stresses Need for Testing at Homeless Shelters.” The New York Times, April 23, 2020. Online at: https://tinyurl.com/ycg9jkhx