The new coronavirus is so highly contagious it has taken down whole nations, such as China, South Korea and Italy. It has forced large portions of America to shelter in place. The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone stay in their homes until May. People are stocking up on goods, preparing to hibernate in their houses for weeks.
So what does that mean for the homeless?
California is ranked No. 4 on the list of states with the largest homeless populations in 2019, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the unhoused populations are especially at risk of contracting the virus. If it can shut down a world superpower, imagine how fast it could sweep through homeless camps, food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.
That reality hit the community on Tuesday, March 24. Alameda County revealed a second death relating to COVID-19, one day after announcing the first. Livermore also has now seen its first confirmed case, according to Denise Bridges, was a volunteer at Open Heart Kitchen, a Livermore-based non-profit organization that provides free meals for the hungry.
Bridges, the Development Director for the kitchen confirmed to The Independent that the person lives in Livermore and had been an active volunteer. Open Heart Kitchen had its facilities professionally cleaned and has since shut down the area where the infected volunteer worked. The following message was posted on their website:
“Open Heart Kitchen remains committed to serving free, nutritious meals to our neighbors in need during the evolving COVID-19 situation. Nevertheless, we are reinforcing adherence to our rigorous and established hygiene processes and increasing sanitation measures throughout. Volunteer shifts have been canceled for the next two weeks.”
However, Open Heart Kitchen continues serving hot meals to those in need, especially seniors. It is working with all Tri-Valley senior centers and nonprofit agencies such as City Serve of the Tri-Valley and Tri-Valley Haven to ensure the cities’ vulnerable residents are fed, according to their website.
Open Heart Kitchen is a microcosm of a larger problem in the state. The demand for food and proper shelter has never been higher in California, as more than 150,000 people are homeless according to a study done by the USICH in 2019. Because of this, services such as shelters and kitchens in the Tri-Valley have been feeling the heavy impacts of the virus.
The Tri-Valley Haven is an organization located in Livermore that offers a wide range of services for those in need: a food pantry, a domestic violence shelter, a homeless shelter and a crisis hotline for those in immediate danger. Their homeless shelter called the Sojourner House, offers beds to families, a stocked kitchen and multiple counseling and life skills development services.
“There are definitely more people than there are beds,” said Ann King, executive director of The Haven.
Preventative measures have been put in place to protect those inhabiting the shelter. For example, any individuals in the shelter, including workers, must take their temperatures twice a day (since a fever is one marker of COVID-19).
“We recommend all sick workers to stay home,” King said. “We do have some workers that are pretty ill, and we are monitoring them.”
Tri-Valley Haven’s food pantry is another major concern as it distributes free groceries to more than 4,000 low-income residents. Having so many families coming to the pantry for food increases the potential of spreading the virus.
Michelle Martinez, the temporary on-site manager of the pantry, explained that they have adopted many of the shelter’s protocols, including reporting daily thermometer readings. They also aren’t letting people into the pantry, as normal, instead preparing bags ahead of time for pickup with minimal contact.
“We are disinfecting after every client,” Martinez said. “We are also wearing face masks and gloves.”
For those who would like to help, both Open Heart Kitchen and Tri-Valley Haven are accepting donations on their respective websites. The Open Heart Kitchen is also accepting donations via email (email@example.com) and over the phone ( 925-500-8104). The Tri-Valley Haven is also accepting new and unopened food donations at Inklings Coffee & Tea located in Pleasanton.
Rebecca Robison is the news and campus life editor of The Express. Follow her @RebeccaRobiso19.