A hui of health care organizations, nonprofit groups and laid-off hotel workers are teaming up to open Hawaii’s first triage and quarantine center for homeless people who may have contracted the novel coronavirus, while mobile medical outreach to homeless shelters and large encampments will begin “immediately.”
The COVID-19 Medical Triage and Quarantine Center is scheduled to open Wednesday in a vacant city building located directly behind the Institute for Human Services women’s shelter in Iwilei to assess and treat 26 homeless patients in a building that was once used as a halfway house for federal convicts returning to society.
Also, city and state officials announced Friday the Hawaii Homeless Healthcare Hui, known as H4, will begin testing for the coronavirus in large homeless encampments and homeless shelters “immediately” through a 120-day grant.
The goal is for H4 to conduct 200 screenings and tests of homeless people daily when fully operational. H4 currently provides walk-in medical services at Oahu’s first Joint Outreach Center located next door to the Honolulu Police Department’s Chinatown substation.
Because of the lack of sanitation in homeless encampments, concerns have been growing that the coronavirus could spread rapidly among Hawaii’s homeless population of more than 7,000 people.
IHS has been screening homeless people coming into its separate men’s and women’s shelters and the smaller homeless shelters it operates around Oahu.
But there is no way to quarantine clients who test positive for the coronavirus in the larger men’s and women’s shelters.
The Iwilei building is planned to provide housing, food and hygiene for up to 26 homeless people who have symptoms, are awaiting test results or who test positive for COVID-19. In all, state and city officials said Friday that 600 people could be assessed and treated at the quarantine center during H4’s 120-day grant period.
Urgent care services also will be offered around the clock on a walk-in basis to the homeless, regardless of their insurance status.
H4 physicians, registered nurses, medical assistants and other medical professionals will staff the triage and quarantine center.
State officials also announced Friday they will hire displaced Local 5, unionized hotel workers to provide food services, security, housekeeping and maintenance at the quarantine center. Local 5 members also will take on meal preparation and facilities maintenance on a volunteer basis.
The city, which owns the building, is in charge of water, electric services and sewer connection. The Institute for Human Services will provide case management for the homeless patients.
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said state officials plan to look at similar partnerships to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement, Gov. David Ige said the groups working on the new homeless quarantine site “allows us to fund, set up and operate critical services in far less time than any of us would be able to achieve on our own. As we find solutions to overcome the threat of COVID-19, it’s these types of local, collaborative efforts that will make a difference in our community.”
The city bought the building behind the IHS women’s shelter for $9 million to possibly relocate the Sand Island Treatment Center when the city expands its Sand Island wastewater treatment facility.