Shawn Kolpak can’t take a shower, can’t wash his hands and has to wait in line with a crush of others to grab a bagged lunch.
He first read about the dangers of the coronavirus a month ago but there’s little he can do to protect himself, he said. The way he’s sees it, he’s better off than those sleeping “in the bushes” because he’s living in a car in Bristol.
“All of these people have nowhere to go to rest, no adequate restrooms to use and none of us have been able to shower,” the 45-year-old said. “The whole coronavirus has made our lives more difficult. Everything is closing.”
Kolpak was staying at a winter overflow shelter in Bristol that closed Sunday as the state ramps up efforts to stem the spread of the virus, which is now present in every county in Connecticut.
He and others who live in shelters or outside are no longer allowed to hang out at outreach centers, soup kitchens, grocery stores or restaurants to charge their phones, use the bathroom and get a respite from the streets.
“All of those places are closed other than the places that are open for one hour to hand out a bag of food, for which we are grateful,” said Kolpak who is on the autism spectrum and who has physical disabilities. “I would imagine when they are telling everyone to stay home, they don’t have the homeless in consideration just yet.”
On the other end of the equation, Barbara Lazarski is trying to figure out how the small kitchen staff at the Friendship Service Center Inc. in New Britain will continue to feed 200 people a day without volunteers or donations of non-perishable food from community groups.
The non-profit runs a shelter that’s full to capacity with 39 people, including children in families, transitional housing for five veterans and 10 youth and it has 67 households in permanent supportive housing throughout the community.
They can’t get push bunk beds in the shelter farther than three feet apart because there’s no space. There’s also no room to isolate people and Lazarski’s trying to pull together bags for clients and those on the streets that contain thermometers, personal hygiene supplies and instructions on how to avoid catching the coronavirus and what to do if someone develops symptoms.
“This is evolving as we’re doing it,” said Lazarski, who is director of development and communications for the Friendship Center. “Nobody has any history with something like this.”
The state Department of Housing freed up $735,000 this week to get people in shelters and those living outside into apartments as quickly as possible as the virus, called COVID-19, extends throughout Connecticut and the northeast.
The going may be slow because landlords might be hesitant to rent amid concerns for the spread of the virus, said Steve DiLella, DOH director of individual and family support programs. But the state agency is willing to waive some restrictions and remove some paperwork to get people housed as quickly as possible, he said.
“It’s housing, housing, housing,” DiLella said, with the agency working with service providers to clear as many people from the shelters to avoid spread of the virus in tight quarters as the number of people diagnosed in Connecticut grows.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced Friday that 194 people from all eight state counties have tested positive and there have been four deaths due to the disease which causes fever, cough and difficulty breathing. The virus is spread by air droplets from coughs and sneezes and can remain active on surfaces from a few hours to days.
Close contact with those who are infected spreads the virus quickly which has prompted Lamont to expand measures to reinforce “social distancing,” including prohibiting bars and restaurants from allowing dine-in seating.
Friday, Lamont joined the state of New York in requiring all non-essential workers to stay home in the hope of preventing a collapse of the healthcare system which could be overwhelmed with seriously ill patients.
The elderly and those with prior medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to complications and death from the virus, health officials say. The DOH is giving providers access to 100 hotel rooms throughout the state to move homeless individuals over the age of 61 in shelters or on the streets to hotel suites with two bedrooms, which would help 200 of the most vulnerable people.
A week ago, Lamont said there were 11 confirmed cases but no deaths. At that point, the DOH and homeless shelter providers were still trying to