Temporary homeless shelters may help slow spread of COVID-19

People who show symptoms of the virus will be kept separate from others.

Posted: Mar 25, 2020 7:24 PM
Updated: Mar 25, 2020 7:30 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- A temporary homeless shelter at the Lane Events Center could help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The shelter gives people living on the streets a place to stay indoors, and a second location is in the works in Springfield.

Both shelters are to be operated by St. Vincent de Paul. The shelter at the Lane Events Center is using two buildings on the property and can house up to 200 people.


Executive Director Terry McDonald said they got the keys to events center on Monday and they opened the doors Tuesday night. The shelter is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

McDonald said they signed a three-week contract with the county that could be extended.

Jason Davis, a spokesperson for Lane County Public Health, said staff have been trained on infectious diseases. He said people who come in get a medical screening and people who show symptoms of COVID-19 are kept separated from the others while being monitored. Davis said the people providing medical care are from Volunteers in Medicine, a primary care medical clinic for low-income, underserved adults. He said they are also hoping to work with the group Occupy Medical.

He said more then 20 people stayed in the shelter Tuesday night and they have outreach teams going out to make sure people know it's available.

Bobby Hawkins has been homeless for six months. He said he was worried homeless people like him would have to fend for themselves.

"I think this is an awesome thing," Hawkins said. "I think it's one of the greatest things I've seen since I've been here."

Davis said right now they are working with local school districts to feed the people housed at the shelter. He said they have also reached out to vendors to see if they can help provide meals.


One homeless man said they are sleeping on mats spaced six feet apart. He said the shelter also has portable toilets, showers and handwashing stations.

"They are doing what they can, definitely," the man said. "Everybody tries to stay away from each other, and there is sanitizer all over the place."

Asher McClennahan lives right across the street from the Lane Events Center. He told KEZI 9 News the county didn't give them a heads up before they put the shelter in, but he's happy to see it.

"Its really extraordinary times right now, so I'm actually really comfortable with it," McClennahan said. "I haven't noticed it all. Nothing has changed in the neighborhood."

While St. Vincent de Paul's executive director said they planned to open another shelter Wednesday night, Davis said it will now open in the coming days. The Springfield location will be the memorial building at 765 A Street. It can house up to 100 people. Davis said the building is owned by Willamalane Park and Recreation District, and their board of directors still needs to hold an emergency meeting and sign off on the project. He said they are expected to approve it.

McDonald said while they have to close their thrift stores, other services are still up and running and seeing high demand. He said they are seeing a cash crunch and are urging people to donate.

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