A High-Stakes Race to Help NYC’s Homeless as Coronavirus Spreads

Last weekend, the first homeless person in a city-run shelter tested positive for coronavirus. As of Friday, there were seven at four separate shelters.

Meanwhile, homeless people who stay on sidewalks and subways rather than go to often dangerous shelters are overwhelming city-supported drop-in centers that offer meals and showers at a time when staying clean is crucial.

The dual dynamic, advocates for the homeless say, adds to a growing health crisis — with vulnerable people living in close quarters in the era of social distancing while those in the streets struggle more than ever to get help in an all but shut down city.

The city is now scrambling on everything from opening new drop-in centers to creating quarantine spaces at shelters to buying thermometers to screen clients before they’re sent to a facility.

But time is tight in the race to help a fragile population, many of them already dealing with mental health and addiction challenges, in the midst of a global pandemic.

“This is extremely urgent and dire,” said Giselle Routhier, director of outreach for the Coalition for the Homeless. “People don’t have access to basic supplies to live.”

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