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Coronavirus

How El Paso is protecting the homeless during COVID-19

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As El Paso continues to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, area groups and organizations are working together to make sure the homeless population receives proper care and support.

The Opportunity Center for the Homeless, located at 1208 Myrtle Ave., had been dealing with overcrowding conditions before opening the Delta Welcome Center, located at 4321 Delta Drive, and the Delta Haven, located at 4451 Delta Drive.

“We had too many people in our building to meet CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” John Martin, deputy director for the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, said. “So we opened an overflow shelter on April 14 and moved over 40 people into that shelter.”

The Delta Welcome Center was opened on April 17, Martin said, as an intake center for people.

A worker set up bedding and other amenities at an overflow shelter for the homeless set up by the Opportunity Center for the Homeless. (Photo courtesy of the Opportunity Center for the Homeless.)

“Both the Delta Welcome Center and the Delta Haven address overflow issues,” he said. “Now that both centers are activated, we can meet the CDC and city of El Paso guidelines. We also meet quarantine guidelines as set by the Office of Emergency Management.

“As for COVID-19, our focus is to provide shelter,” Martin said. “We just had too many people in the Opportunity Center. Prior to April 13, we had mats laid down six inches apart for the people and the mats were very close to one another.

“Our hope is to avoid any COVID-19 cases, but we need to do what we can to protect our employees.”

Aracely Lazcano, communications director for the Opportunity Center, said that prior to April 13, the center averaged seeing 160-180 people per day between the men’s and women’s shelters, including an average of 125 men and 45 women per night.

Martin said caring for the homeless during the pandemic requires insight into unique needs.

“Everyone comes with their own quirks and stuff. About one-third of them have mental health issues, another one-third have physical issues. So how does one prepare for these people?” he said. 

Victoria Hunter, director of marketing for the Rescue Mission of El Paso, located at 221 N. Lee St., said “we have seen a little bit” of an uptick in people coming there for services since COVID-19 broke out in mid-March.

“Our intake process has changed,” Hunter said. “Residents who have been here for a while stay here. Those who come in our door are redirected to another place.” 

Hunter said they do not have anybody who has tested positively for the coronavirus. Lozano also said the Opportunity Center hasn’t had any positive tests for COVID-19 at their location.

Hunter said the Salvation Army’s financial support has held up well so far.

“We’re expecting it to be a rough month but our donors have been great. Some have come forward to help when others are not able. We’re very blessed by their help.

“Our hope is we can get on the other side of this and stay healthy and say, ‘Whew, we made it through this period of time.’”

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Joe Rutland

Joe Rutland is a freelance journalist who lives in El Paso. He's a former assistant city editor with The El Paso Times and has worked for newspapers in Texas and Arizona as a reporter, columnist, and copy editor.

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