SAN JOSE (KPIX) – Homeless advocates were highly critical of the response of public health officials and local governments to the first reported death of a homeless man or woman from novel coronavirus in the state of California.
“The inaction, the talk and the endless promises that are made are frustrating. The people here should have been housed anyway in my opinion. And it took a pandemic to get them a port-a-potty and a hand washing station,” says Pastor Scott Wagers who regularly ministers to the homeless at a sprawling encampment at Roosevelt Park on the outskirts of downtown San Jose.
The city of San Jose has installed portable toilets, hand-washing stations and showers at 14 homeless encampments. It’s an attempt to provide basic hygiene and sanitation services for the homeless during the outbreak. But lagging behind those changes is a plan to provide shelter for homeless men and women exposed to or diagnosed with coronavirus.
“We’re accelerating efforts to identify motels and other locations were we can move folks as soon as the testing indicates we need to get them out and away from others,” says Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced Monday night that of the two newly reported deaths from the virus in Santa Clara County one was a homeless man.
For public health officials, it was a nightmare scenario — a confirmed case of coronavirus among a population without access to good nutrition, running water and basic hygiene and sanitation supplies.
“My concerns are the concerns of many. Death is a possibility. This is a super virus. Being in an encampment, everyone is more susceptible to disease,” says Benny Molina who’s been living on the streets for the past five years.
Santa Clara County health officials would not identify which homeless encampment the victim was living in at the time he was infected and got sick.
Homeless men and women say they’re frustrated by the information blackout. They would like to see more outbreak and education to a community that often feels overlooked even in the best of circumstances.
“They need to be out here educating people about it,” said a woman living in the Roosevelt Park encampment who did not want to be identified. “I’ll tell you firsthand I only know about this virus what I pick up on the street.”