Aurora renting entire undisclosed hotel for homeless made ill or quarantined by virus

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A group of homeless people sit near the Aurora Day Resource Center, March 30. The city of Aurora expects to open a rented hotel Thursday, April 2, 2020, for homeless and housing-insecure people exposed to the novel coronavirus.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | An undisclosed hotel for homeless and housing-insecure people to self-quarantine is expected to open Thursday, easing strain on crowded Aurora homeless shelters and hospitals.

Officials did not disclose the location of the hotel, saying the city wants to protect the privacy of future hotel residents.

Aurora so far has no confirmed COVID-19 cases among its homeless population, according to Shelley McKittrick, the city’s homelessness program director. But stay-at-home orders have placed people experiencing homelessness, or sharing rooms with many people, at a heightened risk of exposure to the virus.

It’s a public health conundrum for regional governments and homeless service providers.

For Aurora, McKittrick brought together support from Aurora-area county governments, hospitals, healthcare providers, homeless shelters and the Salvation Army to staff a quarantine hotel for at least the next two months.

Shelters, hospitals and regional governments will refer people tested positive for the novel coronavirus who aren’t able to self-quarantine in a home without exposing others. People referred could stay there for weeks to wait out the virus and avoid infecting other people, with access to food, amenities and quick transport to a hospital if need be.

People with unstable housing situations exposed to the virus could also be referred and opt to stay in a room. For example, McKittrick said an Aurora resident was recently recommended to self-quarantine for the standard two-week period, but the person shared a space with eight people. A person like that could now stay in one of the hotel’s rooms alone, she said.

“Hopefully we’re going to be the Tri-County regional quarantine for folks who wouldn’t necessarily be able to self-isolate anywhere else,” McKittrick said Wednesday morning, referring to Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties. “….We hope to be open tomorrow.”

The plan will relieve strain on Comitis Crisis Center and other homeless shelters in Aurora, said Bob Dorshimer, Comitis chief executive officer. Comitis personnel will staff the hotel with highly-coveted personal protective equipment: medical-grade, N95 masks and gloves.

He said the hotel has about 120 rooms, enough to house people with medium- to low-medical needs discharged  from Aurora hospitals — with no where to go — or people not sick enough to get a medical bed in the first place.

The hotel won’t have medical equipment, and residents are will largely responsible for taking care of themselves with the help of staff. The Salvation Army will provide meals, and STRIDE Healthcare staff will handle residents’ medical needs. That health network, focused on low-income people, is also operating drive-through testing sites for the general public including one in Aurora. 

McKittrick said the cost of the hotel operation for at least two months  is “pricey” but necessary, ranging in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Federal funding is covering much of the cost, as will funds expected from the colossal federal stimulus package President Donald Trump signed into law last week.

Aurora shelters including Comitis have so far successfully staved off cases among homeless people receiving services there.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said last week two homeless people in its clinic had tested positive. The network is now screening and testing its clients. Denverite reports the Coalition is providing hotel rooms to people waiting for test results.

Dorshimer said he was proud of the prevention efforts in Comitis — so far.

He said, unlike Denver shelters, Comitis reduced operating hours. Staff also set up hand-washing stations that are mandatory before people can enter buildings. The shelter itself is limited to 50 people, and Dorshimer created a cleaning team obsessively disinfecting things people touch: the bottoms of door handles, the bottoms of chairs and toilet handles.

Comitis and the Aurora Day Resource Center are still operating big wedding tents in parking lots limited to 15 people, per social distance guidelines, that are activated for cold weather events like the snowstorm Dorshimer expects Thursday.

McKittrick said last week the Day center tent was stocked with bunks and heaters.

“I’ve not lost anyone yet,” Dorshimer said, adding: “There’s only so long I can hang on.”

The pandemic has also strained Comitis’ resources.

Staff are sewing their own masks because Comitis isn’t eligible to get industry-grade personal protective equipment, he said.

Dorshimer also said food banks have been hit hard. He encouraged donations to the take-home food bank and also sack lunches like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, calling for civic organizations to reach out to him.