Homelessness is a big problem in Guilford County during normal times.

However, in the time of the deadly coronavirus – when everyone is being told to stay home – the problem of homelessness rises to a new level. In Guilford County, public and private groups are coming together to address the dangers to that vulnerable population.

A Sunday, April 5 press release from Guilford County government states that the county commissioners, county administrators, public health officials and emergency planners have been working with groups such as Partners Ending Homelessness and Continuum of Care to help keep those who don’t have a home safe in these difficult times.

The press release states, “During the COVID-19 outbreak, the challenge Is even greater. The typical congregate and semi-congregate living arrangements of those living in shelters and supportive housing may place at-risk individuals in an atmosphere that is hazardous to their health. The Public Health Department has put this issue at the top of its list for communicable disease prevention, as intervention efforts to reduce community spread of the virus intensify.”

County officials say that collaboration is key. According to Guilford County Director of Emergency Operations Don Campbell, the City of Greensboro, for instance, has taken the lead in providing transportation for the homeless to relatively safe places.

“The City of Greensboro is working very hard to remove all barriers for those who need transportation to isolation locations or to respite housing,” Campbell stated. “They have been a strong partner for us and have continually stepped up to help meet the needs of the homeless.”

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips, who for years has been, both personally and as a commissioner, focused on helping the homeless, stated in the April 5 release that the county’s primary role, through its Health Department, is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to any members of the community no matter what their situation.

“County staff have been diligently working on solutions to mitigate the risks of coronavirus spread within our homeless shelters and amongst our homeless population across the county,” Phillips said. “Addressing the safety and health of our homeless citizens is of critical importance, in addition to the already significant needs being addressed on behalf of all Guilford County citizens since the onset of the crisis.”

Guilford County Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann stated this week that homeless shelters are at “high risk” right now, and she said that Guilford County has provided area shelters with detailed instructions on the best ways to perform the safe intake of the homeless – and the county has also provided shelters with safety protocols for placing those who require isolation and quarantine.

Vann said the current effort requires help from all sides.

“The COVID-19 virus is a very dynamic problem which necessitates ongoing support and communication between all groups,” Vann said. “We are working to help keep our hospitals available for those who have severe healthcare needs, and still provide testing and options and alternate housing sites for those experiencing mild symptoms, and providing respite care locations for those who have been ordered into isolation.”

According to Vann, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people in existing homeless shelters stay there, and that any movement to and from the facility be restricted or controlled as much as possible.

Guilford County Commissioner Kay Cashion, who, like Phillips, has been working with the homeless community for years, said that she’s been moved by the way in which the local community has responded to the homeless situation at a time of crisis.

“As a community, we all need to work to ensure that our most vulnerable are taken care of,” Cashion stated. “The county has been working for some time now with representatives who support our homeless community, and the continuing collaboration in addressing new and existing needs has been heartening.”