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COVID-19 infection count among Portland's homeless remains low

Officials believe that total has remained low because they took action early to keep Portland’s homeless apart.

PORTLAND, Ore — Of the 2,037 people living unsheltered in Multnomah County, per the most recent Point In Time Count, four have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday.

Officials believe that total has remained low because they took action early to keep Portland’s homeless apart, including setting up shelter beds in local community centers and in the Oregon Convention Center.

They also opened two outdoor shelters along the Willamette River’s east bank. A third is scheduled to open at Northwest Broadway and Hoyt on Tuesday.

The city scaled back its routine of clearing homeless camps, only clearing those that pose as obvious health and safety risks.

For anyone who tested positive or displayed symptoms, the city set aside more than 100 motel rooms to make sure those people could isolate.

A couple dozen have had to use that option, said Denis Theriault, spokesman for the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

“We've not had to fill those motels up. We initially thought we would have at a third site to the two that we've got operating, and we haven't needed to do that because we haven't filled those spots,” Theriault said. “That that's really good news, too.”

That said, KGW has received multiple emails and messages from viewers asking about crowds of homeless people, clearly standing less than six feet apart, near tents or lined up outside shelters and nonprofits.

Staff at Street Roots have seen them, too.

They theorized, in large part, such scenes can be chalked up to the difficulty homeless people face in keeping up with headlines and best practices tied to the pandemic.

Volunteers have been passing out hand sanitizer and other hygiene supplies and reminding people of the nearest open restrooms and handwashing stations.

“We are taking precautions and washing hands, putting on the gloves, face masks,” said DWD, a volunteer with Street Roots.

A few days ago Street Roots staff put their Rose City Resource online for the first time.

It's a one stop shop, providing updates on COVID-19 and letting people who are homeless know which shelters and services are open. In an effort to maintain social distance, some shelters have closed or scaled back operations.

The guide, said Alex Rodriguez, is helpful to those whose routines have been turned upside down by the pandemic.

“Less people on the streets means for a lot of Portland homeless community, a lot of income comes from panhandling,” he said. “So that was one of the first things is less people on the streets to panhandle from and less people throwing out cans that they can take to the bottle drop, which means less income for the homeless people.”

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