Hennepin County approves additional $1 million for quarantine space for homeless

    hennepin county government center
    Hennepin and Ramsey counties received $317 million in federal CARES Act money. Above, the Hennepin County Government Center in March 2020. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

    The Hennepin County Board unanimously approved spending an additional $1 million to lease hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness who are at high-risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19.

    “I’m really proud to see us making this investment,” Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene said. “The Board is voting on these investments unanimously, and I appreciate seeing all of my colleagues supporting this investment in the health and well-being of our residents.”

    Around 260 people have voluntarily moved from shelters into three hotels since the county approved spending $3 million on quarantine and isolation spaces last month. The majority of those who have moved out of shelter are seniors or people with compromised immune systems. Around 50 people were isolated with flu-like symptoms but none have tested positive for COVID-19.

    Hennepin County, where nearly half the state’s homeless population resides, will likely need to appropriate even more money in the near future. A report from county staff presented to the board on Tuesday forecasts a cost of $5.2 million through June on hotels, staffing, food, security and transportation.

    Since the pandemic reached Minnesota in March, the county has spent nearly all of its $10 million contingency fund for the entire year, most of it going toward personal protective equipment and increasing services for homeless residents.

    “We’re trying to have our eyes wide open about expenses that are ahead of us, and I suspect there are going to be more,” Greene said.

    Hennepin County may be reimbursed by the state for some of its expenses. The Legislature earmarked $15.2 million of its $330 million coronavirus relief package to increase shelter capacity and provide vouchers for hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness.

    Homeless people are at high-risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 because social distancing is virtually impossible, and many people have compromised immune systems from underlying medical issues and a lack of nutritious food and quality sleep.

    The spread of the coronavirus has blown up shelters’ budgets as they’ve replaced volunteers with staff earning hazard pay, increased their use of personal protective equipment and expanded hours to allow more people to stay in shelters during the day.

    Max Nesterak
    Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.