A coordinated effort between Forsyth County, City of Winston-Salem and the Continuum of Care is addressing the needs of the homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forsyth County leads the effort to house homeless individuals who test positive, are symptomatic, are pending testing, have known contact with a confirmed case or are discharged from the hospital due to COVID-19. These individuals are being housed at an alternative site and are monitored using community-based supports.
“We need to take care of them and make sure they have someplace to go,” said County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt, who serves on the county’s Health and Human Services Board.
Forsyth County Department of Social Services has negotiated contracts with the necessary supports to make this happen.
“This is new business for all of us,” said DSS Director Victor Isler. “Nationally, human and homeless service providers and businesses are consulting with each other on how to best partner and meet the needs of our homeless population. In Forsyth, we want to make sure we do it right. I feel we have a solid plan in extending humanity to our homeless population most impacted by COVID-19. ”
DSS has worked with Public Health, medical providers and Forsyth EMS Community Paramedics to ensure screening for medical necessities can be done for these individuals 24/7 when these cases arise at shelters to ensure that their medical needs are met once they’re in isolation.
Forsyth County Public Health staff have visited local shelters to provide technical assistance and CDC guidance on things like social distancing and cleaning.
“Public Health has created teams to be assigned to the shelters so they always have a point of contact with someone they can reach out to if they need assistance,” said Assistant Public Health Director Denise Price.
The city has taken the lead on the medically fragile population that’s experiencing homelessness. Currently, about 160 individuals have been screened and identified as being medically fragile. Some shelters have made provisions to isolate them. Because of the lack of isolation capacity at shelters, the city is reviewing options to house individuals at an alternative location.
The county has been working in partnership with the City of Winston-Salem and the local Continuum of Care for several weeks to address the issue. CoC is the local planning body that coordinates housing and services for homeless families and individuals. On March 20, the county provided the CoC with funds to temporarily house any homeless person affected by COVID-19 in hotels. Planning began for the current response plan on March 23.
Along with the efforts for those in shelters, community outreach teams have been educating homeless individuals sleeping outdoors about COVID-19, CDC hygiene recommendations, and social distancing. They also offered portable hygiene stations.