The question of what to do about the country's homeless population remains at the forefront of the effectiveness of stay-at-home orders as the debate grows across the country if restrictions should be relaxed or continued.
Last week, the New York Daily News published a front page article describing how the homeless have moved onto subway cars with all their possessions.
Cities across the US have been questioned for mass transit operating during the shut down. Transit workers report increases in "Non Destination" passengers, people riding transit just for a place to sit down and keep warm. Even with decreased ridership due to the shutdowns, crime has spiked over 90 percent on transit systems in cities, including New York.
A alarming study out of Boston showed that 146 homeless individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus were asymptomatic. Testing of the homeless in San Franciso, Los Angeles Tennessee and New Jersey have shown similar numbers of asymptomatic cases suggesting that there are many more people potentially positive with the coronavirus who do not even know it.
Some shelters in New York, Washington and Boston require temperature checks and "self reporting" of other symptoms as conditions of entry. Asymptomatic patients can transmit COVID-19 unknowingly, putting at-risk populations in danger of contracting a virus that could be fatal.
In response to the coronavirus outbreaks, Los Angeles is working on moving 15,000 homeless individuals to hotel rooms but with over 60,000 homeless in the city, Los Angeles is falling behind in achieving their goal. Since 2018, LA homeless encampments have been experiencing typhus and tuberculosis outbreaks as well as other diseases. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City council voted to identify hotels refusing to take in the homeless and threatened to commandeer them.
In King County, Washington State purchased a hotel in Federal Way to be used as a quarantine center for the homeless and yet the location has been repeatedly vandalized by the people the project is supposed to be helping. A resident awaiting test results left the facility, allegedly stole from a nearby store and left the area on a Metro bus. Federal Way municipal and business leaders were not told about the project and are now concerned about the effect the facility is having on the area. This concern is similar to nearby municipalities which are seeing spikes in crime as the homeless migrate away from the empty Seattle downtown area.
San Francisco has handed out either booze, tobacco or medical cannabis to 43 homeless people with addictions to deter them from leaving city rented hotels and potentially spreading coronavirus. In Shoreline Washington, news broke last week that residents of a quarantine site were being provided beer, cigarettes and ever marijuana edibles.
According to Kiro 7 news "A King County spokeswoman said the Shoreline facility has become a 'harm reduction' site where nurses and clinicians are trained to treat infected patients who also struggle with addiction withdrawal symptoms. The offer of alcohol and nicotine provides an incentive to prevent the patient from walking away from the facility."
"Harm reduction" facilities typically provide needle exchanges, injection sites (also known as Consumption Sites) and overdose prevention kits rather than treatment. Residents, businesses and municipal leaders who have been successful in stopping government funded injection sites in Washington State and elsewhere are concerned that once the coronavirus crisis has passed these facilities will become full time "harm reduction" facilities. Installation of these facilities always goes hand in hand with a rise in crime and a deterioration of the surrounding area.
In Toronto, a consumption site was reopened during the pandemic even though many businesses remain shuttered and other elective medical procedures not allowed.
A recently released report in Alberta, CA on the effectiveness of Consumption Sites showed an increase in overdoses, crime, police response to incidents and needle debris. The report also documented a lack of treatment being offered and qualified medical personnel.
Even with the data clearly demonstrating the danger of these facilities not just to the surrounding neighborhoods, but to addicts themselves, politicians in cities across the US are determined to install these facilities.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, citizen opposition and threats from federal prosecutors put a hold on what would have been the first injection site in the US. Thousands attended protests and government meetings to oppose the project. The landlord of the proposed site pulled out of the agreement leaving the future of the project uncertain. Many American municipalities like Seattle, have filed Amicus briefs supporting the original lawsuit to legalize the Philadelphia injection site.
According to Seattle’s Navigation Team, over 80 percent of those individuals experiencing homelessness who they encountered during encampment cleanups were suffering from addiction or substance abuse issues. Socialist members of the Seattle City Council have been attempting to stop the activities of the Nav Team and recently used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to "pause" the Nav team. This action has caused many areas of Seattle to deteriorate amidst a rise in crime and growing encampments.
Last week, pictures of the National Guard operating in a homeless encampment in Ballard Commons Park following a hepatitis outbreak in the same encampment the week before, went viral in Seattle. The National Guard was originally deployed to help with coronavirus response but was redeployed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee to assist with the homeless crisis.
On Monday, the Navigation Team cleared the Ballard Commons encampment and offered services which were declined by the majority of campers. Neighbors accuse the nearby St. Luke's Episcopal Church's Hope Kitchen of enabling the encampment rather than transitioning the homeless back to society. Rather than fund treatment options, Seattle and other cities continue to fund organizations that enable drug use.
Chaplains on the Harbor claim to be a sister ministry of St Luke’s on social media and advocate for:
Chaplains has also advocated for the methods of Shilo Murphy AKA Shilo Jama of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance (PHRA). Jama encourages drug use as a normal lifestyle and has even posted videos of the correct way to do heroin on social media. PHRA is funded by City of Seattle and operates needle exchanges around Seattle and has been accused of operating underground injection sites.
Non profits and government officials are encouraging, enabling and even funding the behavior and habits of potentially asymptomatic individuals camping on the streets and in parks during a worldwide pandemic while citizens are told to stay at home.