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Springfield homeless shelter delays opening

The second of two planned respite shelters for Lane County's homeless population had been scheduled to open today.

Posted: Mar 26, 2020 7:03 PM
Updated: Mar 27, 2020 1:20 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ore.-- The opening of Lane County's second "respite shelter" has been delayed.

Officials say the facility to serve the homeless will open at the Memorial Building on A Street in Springfield "within the next couple of days."

"It is critical that we first have the proper ability to practice social distancing and to have a mechanism in place to do medical checks," said Devon Ashbridge, a Lane County spokesperson.

The site is owned by Willamalane Park and Recreation District but is being repurposed to shelter homeless people in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Officials said they initially expected the site to house up to 100 homeless individuals, but the capacity was lowered to 32 after environmental health employees factored in social distancing and security guidelines.

The other site at the Lane County Fairgrounds is nearing capacity, and officials said more shelter sites may be needed.

Jason Davis of Lane County Public Health said that keeping so many people under one roof is a risk during the pandemic, but they are weighing that risk against the possibility of homeless individuals losing access to medical care and other resources. 

RELATED: TEMPORARY HOMELESS SHELTERS MAY HELP SLOW SPREAD OF COVID-19

Still, some homeless people are concerned. 

"Sticking us in one room, when we are going around saying, 'We need social distancing, everyone needs to be six feet apart,' putting everyone all in one room where anyone could be contagious while being asymptomatic, that's giving us the hose," said Zachary Nelson, who is unhoused.

Neil Hirschowitz is worried about security in the facilities. 

"Shelters are a good thing, but what we need to do is shelter the people in shelters from the thieves inside and open organic, cooperative self-sustaining shelters," he said. 

Nonprofit Occupy Medical will be screening the health of the residents. Those who are showing coronavirus symptoms will stay separate from others. 

Officials said the cost of the shelters is coming from the county's reserves, though they are hopeful they will be reimbursed by state and federal funds.

Meanwhile, the county's smaller communities are also considering solutions. Florence and Oakridge reported that they have yet to run into issues with the homeless community congregating. 

Cottage Grove has opened several public bathrooms for day use. 

"The approach that we took was not to try and consolidate them, to bring the homeless community to a certain place, because then we are putting them more at risk. So it's wherever they are at right now that is probably their best defense," said Mayor Jeff Gowing.

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