As state and local governments grapple with how to keep people safe, the threat of coronavirus looms larger for people in vulnerable situations.
Perhaps none more so than people who are experiencing homelessness, who -- by definition -- cannot “stay safe; stay home,” as Gov. Ned Lamont’s new slogan has it.
Mike Maguder has had no permanent place to stay since August of 2018. He lives in a tent in the woods in Bristol and connected with Connecticut Public through social media.
He’s surprised at the shutdowns and worried about being even more limited than he already is.
“It’s absolutely bananas, it’s crazy,” Maguder said. “I never would have thought I’d see them shutting down bottle redemption centers, McDonald’s closing lobbies down. Fortunately they haven’t shut down public transportation. That right there would be killer, just not being able to get around at all.”
He’s also worried about how the world around him will change in more uncertain times.
“If everything’s going under, you’re gonna see a rise in the homeless population, you’re gonna see a rise in criminal activity, you’re gonna see people steal just to have something to eat,” he said.
Municipalities are making plans to help those who may have nowhere to keep safe in the face of potential infections.
In New Haven, city officials said a man experiencing homelessness who had tested positive for the virus left Yale New Haven Hospital without clearance from medical staff. He was later found and returned to the hospital.
The city of Hartford is preparing two sites to serve as quarantine locations for people experiencing homelessness who test positive. The Willie Ware Community Center and Governor’s Foot Guard Armory are expected to be ready sometime this week. The city also said it’s working with hospitals to establish a protocol for working with homeless shelters on testing and treatment.
“We’re working quickly with homeless services providers to expand capacity at shelters, and we expect that there will be an increase in homelessness in the Hartford region as people lose income and temporary housing situations break down,” Mayor Luke Bronin said in a statement.
Richard Cho of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness is urging municipal leaders to get people out of shelters, where it’s very hard for them to self-isolate.
In New Haven, around 90 people have been moved into hotel rooms.
Cho also said he’s been in touch with the Department of Housing about plans to move homeless individuals into state university dorms.
“By the end of this week, the goal is to have matched each region’s homeless shelters to some of those state-owned properties to begin moving people out,” he said. “That will happen in different stages as those dorms are made free.”
Reginald Clemens, 61, is a resident of the South Park Inn shelter on Main Street in Hartford. He said he’s relying on his faith to get him through what may be an even more difficult time.
“I don’t really know the whole insides and out of it, but I know there’s a virus going around, and I know this is affecting a lot of people,” Clemens said. “But I just have to have faith and believe that this too shall pass eventually, just stand firm and hold on, that’s the best I can do.”
South Park Inn has emptied out and sanitized its administrative area and turned it into a place where guests can be quarantined in case they test positive for COVID-19.
Kandyce Aust, the agency’s director of development and community relations, said despite the uncertainty, there’s no other place she’d rather be right now.
“I would rather be here helping our guests and making sure they’re all safe, and we’re making sure they all have their meals, and that there’s really no disruption to their routines as much as possible,” Aust said. “And in a way, I feel better being busy and occupied.”
“We take care of people in society that have just hit a bump along their path for whatever reason, and they need a little help and a little assistance to get back on their journey,” she said. “I think with this COVID-19, I think we feel that we’re all in this together, and we’re gonna help each other get through this.”
Elizabeth Rodriguez, 53, has been living at South Park Inn for about a year. She has advice for keeping balanced in chaotic times.
“When you wake up in the morning, always think positive, no negativity. Braveheart. Braveheart mentality. And focus. Do not stress. Don’t lose hope or faith. It’s only up to God,” she said.
The advice to stay positive and move forward is echoed by Maguder. He said he has a mantra to get through every day, one that he thinks may be helpful to everyone who’s now faced with uncertainty and broken routines.
“Come up with a plan, and stick to it,” he advised. “That’s what I do every morning. I set myself a goal, whatever I’m gonna accomplish today, let’s say I need toiletries, I need deodorant. I set myself a goal to manage to get that, and then take it step-by-step.”
Additional reporting by John Henry Smith.