Support and services for people experiencing homelessness

a person walking a set of railroad tracks, all you can see is their knees down walking towards you.
Thursday, April 16, 2020

Updated 4/27/20 4:07pm

 

The COVID-19 pandemic response in Benton County has necessitated a unified response from Benton County, the City of Corvallis, and communities throughout the area. Closures, cancellations, and service adjustments have disrupted everyday life for the entire community.

The Benton County-Corvallis Emergency Operation Center (EOC) is supporting the Health Department’s response efforts, including the needs of vulnerable populations in the community. Partner agencies have stepped up and expanded their services to meet this critical need.

This document summarizes support and services that are being provided to people experiencing homelessness.

Microshelters

The City of Corvallis Community Development Department has temporarily allowed applications for ​microshelters using an existing regulatory framework in Corvallis Municipal Code 5.03.080.080.04. Under this emergency allowance, private property owners (such as churches or business owners) can apply to install a temporary microshelter for a period of up to 30 days upon approval by the City Manager. This permit can be extended for an additional 60 days by the City Council. The permit is available online at https://www.corvallisoregon.gov/police/page/overnight-camping-permits.

Under this program, microshelters are not considered “buildings” and do not require inspection or utility connections. This temporary allowance has no impact on future actions by the City Council through the Land Development Code. The City Council has expressed its desire to have a robust public discussion on this topic once the local emergency has ended.

Restrooms & Hygiene

Portable toilets with hand sanitizer have been installed at a number of city parks after existing public restrooms were closed due to insufficient protective gear required for sanitation and cleaning. Portable toilets are available at the following parks:

  • North Riverfront Park
  • South Riverfront Park
  • Willamette Park
  • Crystal Lake Sports Park
  • Pioneer Park
  • Central Park
  • Bald Hill Natural Area
  • Chintimini Park
  • Bruce Starker Arts Park
  • Garfield Park
  • Porter Park
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park
  • Avery Park
  • BMX Track

Deployment of these portable toilets is managed by the City of Corvallis through a contractor. 

In addition, volunteers created 12 portable handwashing stations for installation at sites in Corvallis. Municipal staff got involved to ensure that these stations were safe and sanitary to use, and provided vehicle access in city parks to install and service these stations (refill soap, remove graywater, etc). 

EOC Public Health Branch staff are assessing the feasibility of additional portable toilets and handwashing stations, as well as shower facilities in the greater Corvallis area, to meet needs in the community.

Alternative Care Site

The EOC is developing plans for an alternative care site to provide surge capacity for area hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients who need a safe and supportive setting to receive treatment and recover from the disease. County Health Department officials are working to identify specific needs and capabilities for the Alternative Care Site. The site will include fairly robust medical services, but not to the level of a full hospital admission. 

Non-Congregate Supporting Housing

EOC Public Health Branch is working with community groups to explore options for securing a number of motel rooms to isolate COVID-19 patients or those awaiting tests who do not need a hospital admission, as well as hotel rooms for medically fragile people who do not need hospital admission but are at increased risk of COVID-19 infection. The intent is to provide support, such as case management, food delivery, and basic supportive services, in a way that keeps the patients isolated and does not further tax the local hospital system. As of April 24, one partner agency has already begun placing medically fragile individuals in hotel rooms for isolation purposes. 

Transportation Options

The EOC is looking at transportation alternatives for moving COVID-19 patients to and from microshelters and other emergency housing sites. The intent is to provide some transportation options while still keeping the local ambulance fleet available for emergency care. Benton County has provided a vehicle to a community partner organization for transporting nonsymptomatic
people experiencing homelessness as needed to access services and resources. 

Street Outreach & Response Team (SORT) Outreach

County staff are working with partner agencies and municipal workers on regular, direct outreach to people experiencing homelessness throughout Benton County. This outreach includes providing information about COVID-19 prevention, connecting people with healthcare and insurance options, addressing basic needs, and apprising them of services available in the community.

The EOC has provided hand sanitizer and cloth masks for distribution through SORT outreach staff.

Unauthorized Camping & Vehicle Camping

Municipal staff are refraining from posting and clearing illegal campsites and parked vehicles to avoid creating additional stress on vulnerable populations during the pandemic. Camping in parks and natural areas, and in parked vehicles, remains illegal, but the emergency declaration has provided staff with some discretion in enforcing these ordinances.