Hennepin County moves 130 homeless people into hotels for COVID-19 protection

    hennepin county government center
    Hennepin County Government Center. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

    One hundred thirty people experiencing homelessness in Hennepin County have voluntarily moved into separate living quarters in hotels just four days after the county board unanimously approved spending $3 million on isolation and quarantine spaces.

    So far, the county has contracts with two area hotels and is working on securing more spaces as the need increases.

    “This is a crisis that is going to have a long life,” said David Hewitt, the director of Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness. “We are daily identifying new potential sites as we manage the number of people we need to move to keep them safe.”

    The 130 individuals who moved into their own hotel rooms are 60 and older or are at extremely high risk of becoming gravely ill. A number of people who fear they have COVID-19 were also moved to hotel rooms to self-quarantine.

    Hewitt could not say how many individuals think they have the virus but stressed that, so far, the moves have been entirely precautionary. There are no known cases of COVID-19 in shelters in the county.

    Hennepin County officials have also contracted with local faith and non-profit groups to deliver three meals a day to residents staying in the hotels.

    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 shocked shelters, who are already operating at full capacity.

    “It cannot be overstated how much pressure is being placed on the homeless response system,” Hewitt said. “Costs for providers are going up. There are staff shortages and difficulties obtaining supplies, so any support that our community can give to those nonprofits is just invaluable at this time.”

    Hewitt declined to say which hotels the county contracted with and how much they’re renting the rooms for.

    A spokesman for Ramsey County said they are still working on finalizing contracts for two facilities that will provide isolation and quarantine space for up to 200 people. The Ramsey County Board approved spending $1.8 million on the spaces Tuesday.

    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.