Coronavirus News: Fears high among New York City homeless amid COVID-19 pandemic

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, homeless individuals in New York City worry city shelters could become a breeding ground for coronavirus.

Shelter residents from the Bronx to Brooklyn have reached out to Eyewitness News, sending photos of crowded sleeping quarters and dining areas and expressing concerns about shelter cleanliness.

The residents largely asked to remain anonymous, citing concerns about retribution for speaking out.

"They are not sanitizing our rooms, but they are making sure the staff are safe," wrote one woman from a shelter in Manhattan. "They have gloves and masks. They don't give us none of that. They said it's only for staff."

Another man at a shelter in Brooklyn complained the shelter was "not following any of the rules. Very, very dangerous here."

Another woman described the shelter conditions as "dangerous and unsanitary."

"During this public health crisis, the shelter is completely unprepared," she wrote.

"We are people too," said one man named Jazz.
As of Friday, March 20, the Department of Homeless Services confirmed seven positive cases of COVID-19 among shelter residents.

Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the challenges of containing the virus at city shelters.

"Shelters by definition are going to be harder in some cases to deal with physically than others," de Blasio said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services indicated the city had taken several steps to help protect shelter residents and staff, including developing screening protocols, exploring staggered meal times, identifying several locations for isolation rooms for individuals who are sick and reaching out to unsheltered homeless individuals with cleaning wipes and information about medical care.

Homeless individuals questioned whether those policies being laid out by DHS are being followed within actual shelters.

"As cases rise across the country and the city, we anticipate cases will rise amongst the New Yorkers experiencing homelessness who we serve," a DHS spokesperson wrote in response to Eyewitness News inquiries about homeless residents' concerns. "We continue to work closely with our essential not-for-profit provider partners to keep our clients informed and to connect anyone who needs it to medical care. Following the lead of our city's health experts, we are working together across agencies to monitor the constantly-evolving situation and rapidly respond in support of our most vulnerable."

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