Thursday, 16 April 2020 12:16

Shelters of Saratoga Responds to COVID-19

SARATOGA SPRINGS — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) Executive Director Karen Gregory announced Sunday that The Holiday Inn, located in downtown Saratoga Springs, will serve as a temporary location for the city’s homeless. 

Isolating people experiencing homelessness in individual hotel rooms with access to private bathrooms is the best possible solution to facilitate safe distancing and the ability to practice good hygiene thus preventing a community-wide spread of COVID-19. Food service, basic necessities and case management is being provided to those staying in the hotel. The shelters on Walworth Street remain open and SOS is serving over 100 people through the outreach program, which provides people with food and hygiene products. 

“Our number one priority is the health and safety of people we are helping each day. Social distancing and hygiene is the only way to slow the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, people experiencing homelessness don’t have the ability to stay home.” Gregory said. “People experiencing homelessness don’t have regular access to sinks where they can wash their hands and those staying at homeless shelters can’t always remain six feet from another person. There are simply too many people and not enough space.” Quarantine for a sick or exposed individual would not be possible in these settings.

In addition, homeless individuals face a variety of issues when it comes to COVID-19. Age, poor health, disability, and living conditions make them highly vulnerable to illness. Once the virus is introduced to this high-risk population, further transmission will be very difficult to contain. As such, Shelters of Saratoga initiated this proactive, rapid response plan for this crisis.

Gregory stated “I made several requests to Saratoga County to move our shelters into a local hotel before someone was symptomatic or tested positive for COVID-19. I was told over and over again that would not be possible until somebody tested positive, although I explained at that point it would be too late and I was afraid we would have a shelter full of very sick people including my staff. Ultimately, I did not want anyone to die.”

When Gregory voiced her concerns and ideas to Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly, the Mayor was immediately aligned with her worries. They met the next morning and started going door to door to find a hotel. Kevin Tuohy, General Manager of the Holiday Inn in Saratoga, offered his support immediately and without hesitation. 

While the guests will be staying at the hotel, Gregory has opted to move in as well to keep operations running smoothly. “Although, I miss my family tremendously, it is critically important to me, to keep both my family safe as well as the people SOS is serving.”

Kelly shared this, "As Mayor, it's my job to protect all of my citizens, including and especially those most vulnerable. Current federal and state guidelines for COVID-19 and homeless individuals set a reactive threshold - quarantine only after an individual presents with symptoms. For our city, this was not a high enough standard. I'm proud that Saratoga Springs is joining a short, but growing list of communities across the country prepared to prevent infection and spread among our homeless population by using hotels to practice social distancing and enable access to adequate hygiene, hand washing, and quarantine. This will save lives. And I'm grateful to Shelters of Saratoga’s Executive Director, Karen Gregory for her agility in the face of this crisis and to Kevin Tuohy, General Manager of the Holiday Inn here in Saratoga for stepping forward." 

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