Sunday, December 13, 2020

Wiley Cunningham (267) 428-1476


Hotel Residents, all of whom are over 60 and have pre-existing health conditions making them more susceptible to Covid-19, feel confused and betrayed.

Philadelphia, PA.  After months of operation, the City of Philadelphia is shuttering its Covid Prevention Hotel sites several weeks ahead of the December 31st termination of  the federal CARES Act funding.  The two hotels, the Holiday Inn Express on the 1300 block of Walnut St and the Fairfield Inn on the 200 block of S 13th St have been home to over 260 formerly homeless individuals for most of the year, all of whom are over the age of 60 or have pre-existing health conditions that put them at increased risk of contracting and possibly dying from coronavirus.

Residents, who were told upon entry to the program that this would be the “last place they would have to go before getting placed in permanent housing,” received written notice that they will be moved to new facilities this coming Tuesday, December 15th.  Many residents described a complete lack of communication about where the new locations were or what the conditions would be.  Several residents were found to have left the hotel early upon receiving the letter, apparently confused about whether they would even be placed in a new location. 

At least two of the locations identified in the media, 1917 W Oxford St and 600 E Luzerne St are former halfway houses that had been operated by the PA Department Of Corrections.  “Oh no, I can’t do that.” said Buck, a resident of the Holiday Inn Express.  “I ain’t gonna go back into no jailhouse.  I’m about to go rent my own apartment cause I ain’t about to go to no jail.  I just needed some help with paying my rent.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to present a carceral setting for housing as a real choice to people who have previously experienced jail or prison” said Candace McKinley of the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund.  “Forcing people to choose between going back to the street or to relive that trauma in exchange for their basic shelter and health requirements during a pandemic seems cruel and unnecessary.”

Other residents report being told that they would have to share their new room with a stranger, were being placed in a SRO hotel where they would be sharing a bathroom with their entire floor or would be waiting for their housing opportunity in a shelter.  These statements appear to contradict public comments from city spokesperson Mike Dunn who claimed that all residents had been offered permanent housing and that the interim facilities provided would be safe and comparable to the hotel.

Advocates for the homeless were critical of the decision to close the program and push a population with increased risk of death due to covid-19 into unequal and inadequate facilities. 

“We have ACT-UP members fortunate enough to get letters from their physicians stating clearly that they cannot be placed in a setting where they will have to share rooms or facilities with others or they will be at extreme risk of death and we have other members who haven’t managed to get letters like that but they are in equal danger.” said Max Ray-Riek of ACT-UP Philadelphia.  “The city should recognize that this is a threat to all of the extremely vulnerable residents of the hotel and they should find equal and adequate housing for everyone”

“I think the city should be really worried about a wrongful death, or state created danger suit coming out of this if someone contracts coronavirus and dies as a result of their placement in a facility with any kind of congregate setting” said Jennifer Bennetch of OccupyPHA.  “What I want to know is how are case-workers who have no medical training qualified to decide who has a health condition where they can risk a congregate setting and who does not?”

Sources familiar with the City’s privately contracted homeless shelter system confided that there are currently four shelters that have closed intake due to outbreaks of coronavirus in their facilities.   The vast majority of the City’s shelter system is premised upon congregate or dormitory style housing, which is poorly suited to the social distancing and ventilation requirements necessary to slow the transmission of the extremely contagious virus.  Additionally, the city’s policy of clearing homeless encampments has not changed during the pandemic, with sweeps continuing to occur on a regular biweekly basis despite Centers for Disease Control guidelines designed to slow the community spread of the deadly virus.

Cities all across the country enacted similar programs with federal funding for emergency housing of the homeless in response to the coronavirus pandemic and many, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and even Baltimore have managed to find the funding necessary to continue the program beyond the December 31st expiration of federal CARES Act funding.

According to letters issued to residents of the hotel, city workers will begin delivering boxes and packing supplies to the hotels on Monday morning and people will begin moving on Tuesday.


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