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Lewis and Clark Co. Commissioners allocate COVID funds for homeless needs

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Posted at 3:02 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 18:59:26-05

HELENA — On Tuesday, Lewis and Clark County commissioners allocated $25,000 to Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) and the Elkhorn Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) to support sheltering efforts for homeless individuals who test positive for the coronavirus.

The funds approved by the Lewis and Clark County commissioners will support services that provide a safety net for shelters helping the unhoused in the Helena area.

"It's not a new housing option. It is really utilizing a hotel room for quick response, and then they go back to the congregate housing they were in," Alexa Noruk the Emergency Manager for Lewis and Clark County DES.

The Elkhorn COAD and DES will use the funding to help provide an unhoused individual with a hotel room, and the funds will also cover cleaning to keep the hotel staff safe and requests for food.

Over the past two years, the county has worked with local organizations on various ways to limit the spread of Covid-19 among some of those most vulnerable, area homeless, who rely on shelters that house multiple people, sometimes in close quarters.

At one point partners even utilized the YMCA's Camp Child to help space out families to limit the potential spread

This new round of funding continues the work done in supporting those organizations.

"The COAD coordinates food delivery. If the hotel room has a microwave or a refrigerator, they can do at-home meals," said Noruk.

At God's Love, they’ve had three positive COVID-19 cases in the past few months. The cases were kept between a small group of close contacts according to Rachel Saunders, office manager at the shelter.

Saunders says that the shelter has seen more people needing their services due to the winter months.

"The challenges have been that we still have a high spike in numbers in some cases it has doubled or tripled, still trying to find spaces for people to sleep while keeping a distance of each other, " said Saunders.

Inside the men's dorm, the twin-sized beds are separated by partitions and kept at minimum feet six apart.

Leaving space to avoid transmission of the coronavirus.

"So each person has a six-foot by six-foot cubicle to try and make their own, " said Rachel Saunders

Noruk says DES and the COAD hope the transmission rate of COVID-19 will continue to decrease so the services can be reduced as well.

"We hope to ramp down the program as numbers in the community decrease so, if community transmission is high, we will be on alert for congregate living spaces to also be high," said Noruk.