Coronavirus: Knoxville establishes shelter in event of COVID-19 outbreak amongst homeless population


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — While there are no people experiencing homelessness among those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, the city is establishing a shelter space for persons experiencing homelessness who have been tested for COVID-19.

Knoxville leaders met with the media Wednesday afternoon to outline the plan.

“This is for persons who are homeless but are not confirmed positive – that’s the purpose of this shelter,” Mayor Indya Kincannon. “Referrals will come from the health department and health care providers.”

This comes after the city issued a safer-at-home order on Tuesday. Mayor Kincannon said Tuesday night the city was working to develop a plan for the homeless population, as individuals experiencing homelessness would not be fined for order violations.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Knoxville Mayor Kincannon issues order allowing for ‘corrective action’ against Safer at Home violators

The Knox County Metro Drug Coalition is providing its building on West Fifth Avenue for the shelter space, which will be called “The Guest House,” with enough space to accommodate 18 people following appropriate social distancing and infection control guidelines.

The city will provide up to $95,000 to operate the shelter over the next two months and referrals will come from physicians, hospitals and the health department.

“It’s important to note there are no confirmed cases in the homeless community right now in Knoxville, but we felt it was vitally important to have a designated place for those showing symptoms.  We are pleased so many community partners are joining forces to help open this shelter.”

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon

Volunteer Ministry Center is gearing up to provide 24-hour onsite management of The Guest House. Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry, the Knox Baptist Association, United Way, Next Step Initiative, Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee, Angelic Ministries and others have offered resources including food delivery, portable shower and laundry facilities.

“Metro Drug Coalition is extremely concerned about the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable populations in our community,” Metro Drug Coalition Executive Director Karen Pershing said. “The social service agencies have been working collaboratively to identify how to best continue services while adhering to CDC guidelines.

“The homeless population is one of the most challenging and MDC has a vacant building near the homeless corridor that we believe can help fill a critical gap in preventing the spread of COVID-19 among this population by offering the space to our homeless service providers. All available resources need to be utilized in times like these.”

City leaders also said Wednesday that the city’s day space on Broadway would remain open for day-use. The city has already stepped up its efforts to clean and disinfect the space and have modified the trash collection process for speedier takeaway.

There will also be marked spacing and moved tables in order to give “visual cues” to those using the day space for social distancing.

Knoxville Fire Department Chief Stan Sharp asked the public to follow the guidelines and restrictions that have been put into place.

“It protects yourself and others,” Sharp said.

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