As the novel coronavirus was reaching critical mass last spring, I gave a radio interview to Rabbi Neil from Temple Beth Shalom on KSFR-FM. When he asked me about the pandemic and its increasing punch, I replied that I had a fantasy that maybe COVID-19 would just skip right over the shelter. In some magical way, it did, and it has–at least for now. And it’s not just in Santa Fe. COVID rates among homeless populations on the west coast have been surprisingly low. (See “Coronavirus Hasn’t Devastated the Homeless as Many Feared.”)
So far, so good at Interfaith Community Shelter. Of the 18 guests we have sent from the shelter for COVID-19 testing, all have received negative results. It seems our fears of the coronavirus running rampant throughout our shelter, have not played out in the ways we had dreaded. This outcome has been especially good for our guests, but also beneficial for the greater Santa Fe community.
But what conclusions can we really draw?
We placed our older, medically fragile guests in a motel. Could it be that our good fortune has everything to do with that compassionate fact?
Or: Could it be that our good results owed to changing our protocols inside the shelter? We sent anyone with a higher than 100 degree temperature immediately to the midtown campus for COVID testing.
We require everyone who enters the shelter to wear a mask, and we we have strictly limited the number of people who can enter the building for services and a place to sleep. Could these factors be the cause of the 18 negative test results?
Maybe that has to do with all of these things, or a combination of them, or none.
We are ever mindful that winter is coming. And the reality of no COVID infection among Santa Fe’s homeless up to now, may also owe to the fact that the bulk of Santa Fe’s homeless population has been camping outdoors in the summer. Perhaps that also has had a great impact on keeping COVID at bay. It remains incredible to me that given how little was, and is, known, we worked diligently to adapt, to adopt best practices, and to essentially halt the risk of contagion among people experiencing homelessness in Santa Fe.
Now, the Interfaith Community Shelter is working diligently with other service providers and the City of Santa Fe to come up with a plan for winter. We are planning for overflow locations for individuals experiencing homelessness to go when the shelter reaches social distancing capacity. We are well aware we cannot trade one nightmare for another–the risk of freezing for people experiencing homelessness, and the risk of infection because of overcrowding. God forbid one of our guests should freeze to death on the streets of Santa Fe because they couldn’t find shelter during the pandemic.
Like everything with this virus, we may never know whether it was all the precautions that we put in place were that kept the virus at bay, so far, or if there is something larger at work. No matter what, we plan to continue doing what we are doing, because it is working for our guests, our staff and our volunteers.