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It may sound obvious, but the homeless can’t stay home. So how do homeless people avoid exposure to Covid-19? And where do they quarantine if they test positive for the virus? New York City’s Department of Homeless Services had little in place to deal with a pandemic and over 60,000 people remain in shelters struggling to quarantine. Mental Health Peer Specialist, EMT, and advocate for the homeless, Allilsa Fernandez, tells Laura how the shelter organizing movement is applying strategies like mutual aid to fill the gaps in the system. She says the nation is now recognizing what communities of color have long known and practiced: reliance on one another in the absence of support from the state.
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What can we do to protect homeless people from Covid-19 in NYC? Allilsa Fernandez explains her work connecting homeless people to resources that can help them, and how this is being tailored to the current public health crisis. In the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic, the New York City Department of Homeless Services had very little in place to protect the homeless. There is no place for the homeless to quarantine in the city, notes Fernandez. They have to stay in shelters where social distancing is all but impossible and without access to the necessary personal protective equipment. Neither do they have access to cleaning products, hand sanitizer, and often, even food.
These communities are turning to mutual aid to address their needs. The needs of people of color have been neglected by the government throughout our history, but now, notes Fernandez, the strategies they’ve developed are starting to become popular in other communities. Coming out of this crisis, we have an opportunity to redesign the system and take into consideration the needs of the most vulnerable.