New coronavirus testing hotline serves Houston’s homeless population

SEARCH outreach specialist Otha Norton, left, assists Carlton Ray and records data in a multi-agency information system for tracking Houston's homeless population. (Courtesy Lauren Anderson)
SEARCH outreach specialist Otha Norton, left, assists Carlton Ray and records data in a multi-agency information system for tracking Houston's homeless population. (Courtesy Lauren Anderson)

SEARCH outreach specialist Otha Norton, left, assists Carlton Ray and records data in a multi-agency information system for tracking Houston's homeless population. (Courtesy Lauren Anderson)

As coronavirus monitoring continues to increase in Houston, a new hotline aims to connect some of the city’s homeless population with free tests provided through nonprofit Healthcare for the Homeless Houston.

After case managers or homeless residents call the hotline, specified Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County cabs transport those seeking testing to Healthcare for the Homeless Houston's testing site.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the hotlines April 28 as a part of a larger ongoing initiative to keep the virus’ outbreak at bay among the homeless community.

Other aspects of the effort include leasing hotel rooms for quarantine sites and overflow capacity for shelters now complying with social distancing measures and widespread distribution of hand sanitizer. An additional shelter coordinated between the city of Houston, Harris County and the Salvation Army has also been providing more space for homeless residents.

Weeks of lost income has meant those on the edge of homelessness are now pushed into that category and need more assistance, he said.


"There are not many organizations saying, 'Send me people who are potentially infected with COVID-19.' Healthcare for the Homeless Houston is one of those rare organizations," Turner said.

Efforts to curb homelessness in Houston are coordinated by The Way Home, an organizing body of nonprofits and government agencies serving needs such as housing, food access and case management. With separate testing initiatives going on between the various members of the Way Home, the city does not have a full count of how many homeless residents have received testing so far, said Marc Eichenbaum, the mayor’s special advisor on homelessness.

"The true impact of COVID-19 on homelessness in Houston will not be felt today, it will not be felt tomorrow, but it will be felt in the months and years to come," he said.


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