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Coronavirus screening and triage site for homeless expands at Keehi Lagoon

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage site for homeless people provides a safe place to stay for people without homes who have no symptoms of COVID-19.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage site for homeless people provides a safe place to stay for people without homes who have no symptoms of COVID-19.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage site includes meals, hygiene and security.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage site includes meals, hygiene and security.

About 50 homeless people are staying in tents and being monitored at Keehi Lagoon Beach Park at the Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage Facility, which is being expanded.

“POST” is a safe place where people without homes who have no symptoms of COVID-19 can live in tents provided for them, adequately spaced apart for social distancing. The site is part of government efforts to prevent spread of the disease among vulnerable folks who have few options.

Another 24 tents went up at the grassy field Wednesday, bringing the total to 84, and four more people had moved in by midday Thursday.

People who check in to the site are monitored for 15 days and may not come and go during that time.

If they stay healthy and continue to show no symptoms, they become eligible for shelter intake, permanent housing and other services. Anyone who develops symptoms is transferred to a quarantine center or health care facility.

Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, cited the new occupancy figure of 50 during a Facebook Live event hosted Thursday by Gov. David Ige and described how the program is working.

“There’s a number of people moving out, being placed into permanent housing and other options, five people within just the past couple of days,” Morishige said.

The City and County of Honolulu and the Honolulu Police Department created POST with “ohana zone” funds, he said. Meals, hygiene and security are provided. People are referred to the site by homeless outreach workers and others.

“POST is not a program just in isolation,” Morishige said. “It is part of a total systems response that we’re standing up to address homeless during the pandemic.”

That system also includes the Temporary Quarantine and Isolation Center on Kaaahi Street in Iwilei set up by the Department of Health for vulnerable, unsheltered people who have symptoms of the virus or are awaiting test results.

Altogether, 28 people have checked into the quarantine center, but so far none have tested positive for the disease, according to Ed Mersereau, deputy director for behavioral health at the state Department of Health.

“The real key is to try and identify those who may be infected with the virus and keep them isolated or separated from the general homeless population,” Ige said Thursday in his Community Connection livestream.

The state has taken a big step in pulling together efforts during the pandemic to help homeless people and those with mental health issues through the new Behavioral Health and Homeless Statewide Unified Response Group.

“One of the things that’s been really exciting is that we’re starting to really coordinate both homelessness and behavioral health services,” Mersereau said. “There’s a lot of overlap.”

The group, known as BHHSURG, created a centralized website to coordinate resources, share information, support providers and consumers, and reduce gaps in care. Agencies collaborating on it include the Health and Human Services departments, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness and the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Social Work.

“The platform is groundbreaking in the way it has been organized,” said Victoria Fan, associate professor of public health at UH. “We believe it will help many who are in need of these services.”

The website offers mental health and homeless providers an array of resources, webinars and Q&As, and coordinates activities such as collection and distribution of masks, gloves, face shields and sanitation supplies. Providers can submit requests and the public can also offer donations through the website.

“There’s a form in there that you can submit to us,” Mersereau said. “And then we can get that from you to the resiliency hub network and get that distributed out to the folks that need it.”

Asked what a homeless person should do if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, Mersereau advised calling the 24-hour CARES line at 832-3100 on Oahu to discuss symptoms and testing options.

To learn more or offer supplies, go online to health.hawaii.gov/bhhsurg. People can also offer ideas and resources by emailing covidkokua@hawaii.gov.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

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