A Safe Haven for Allegheny County
August 3, 2020
The tall, mirrored windows and the double-door entrance of the hotel the Safe Haven program resides in are commonplace. As are the inconspicuous, beige walls and the generic, contemporary art hanging on them. The faint smell of chlorine drifting in from the hotel pool paired, the soft hum from the ice machine—even the patterned carpet purposely busy to hide any foot traffic provides a similar feeling to déjà vu. Many of us have been in a hotel like this. Exciting for kids, yet unremarkable for adults. It’s exactly what you would expect from a hotel, which is the entire point. When it feels like there is so much uncertainly swirling around us these past months, anything that clearly appeals to our expectations is a boon.
COVID-19 has forced most CHS staff to work remotely (*waves my hand). Video conference calls and telecommunications have replaced our personal interactions. Even though this whirlwind of change has disrupted the routines we felt such security in, we’re thankful that our programming can easily adapt to the evolving needs of Allegheny County and still provide the essential services to the people we serve. And with the recent rise in COVID-19 positive cases, people need us now more than ever. The homeless and communities of color are at a higher risk for infection due to underlying health and economic challenges, and with the amount of job losses (over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment so far), we’re reminded how lucky we are that we can still push forward from the safely of our living rooms. But what about at-risk individuals who cannot safely isolate in their homes or who don’t have safe housing to isolate in? What about frontline workers and first responders?
Safe Haven is one of our new programs to rise from the pandemic. Its purpose is to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by providing safe shelter for the most vulnerable people living in Allegheny County who would otherwise be unable to isolate or quarantine. It’s in partnership with DHS, and over the past several months, the voluntary, temporary isolation and quarantine facility has provided a way for us to be a part of the tremendous effort being done to control the spread of COVID-19 in Allegheny County.
And it’s been successful at doing just that. By incorporating research and best practices on quarantine and isolation spaces, as well as following guidance from the CDC and the Allegheny County Health Department, Safe Haven has successfully contained the spread of COVID-19 in guests who come to it for isolation. In March, the facility housed over fifty guests with about a third of them testing positive for COVID-19. And with the recent rise of COVID-19 in Allegheny County, the hotel is busier than ever. “It seems like the second wave has been from folks who were brought into shelters recently from the street,” says Luray Fladd, Program Director of Emergency Shelters. “Most of our confirmed or pending COVID referrals have been from rehabs facilities, congregate living settings, and hospitals especially. We've seen more folks on that end from hospitals who were double or tripled up.”
Safe Haven guests are masked whenever they are outside of their rooms and safe social distance guidelines are practiced. Chairs and tables are spread out to encourage this behavior. These precautions are easy to practice, making guests more inclined to continue using them when they leave the program and return to their own housing or to a job that might greatly expose them to the virus, like first responders who have also utilized the hotel.
Beyond providing a safe place to stay, Safe Haven also provides guests with resources for broader assistance if COVID impacts their financials in the future. Like any CHS programming, staff at Safe Haven focus just as much on the day-to-day support as they do on how clients can empower themselves to protect their futures. But despite these serious safeguards, staff and clients still try to maintain some semblance of normality and have some fun. Graduates from the program who return safely to housing are often given socially distant ‘happy moving on’ parties with ice cream cake, pitched in from the high-risk guests. “We tend to see an uptick in motivation to move on after these recognition events which makes everyone—staff and guests—feel great about the work we're doing,” says Fladd.
Guests staying at Safe Haven are both CHS clients and non-CHS clients. Due to the severity of the disease, the facility accepts referrals from homeless shelters, street outreach providers, refugee and immigrant services, and other systems across DHS (i.e. Office of Behavioral Health, Justice-involved individuals, etc.), the Allegheny County Health Department, and approved essential services providers in Allegheny County. Referrals are assessed based on an individual’s symptoms, potential and known exposure, testing status, and risk factors for complications if they were to develop COVID-19 based upon their age, known health history, and chronic health conditions. There is no self-referral available at this time. If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms, please reach out to your medical provider to discuss your health concerns and symptoms, or you may contact the Allegheny County Health Department COVID-19 Hotline at 888-856-2774.
In order to be eligible to stay at Safe Haven, referrals must be at least one of the following:
- High risk (over age 60, have respiratory issues, heart problems, other chronic health conditions known to increase the risk of negative outcomes associated with COVID-19).
- Are showing potential symptoms of COVID-19.
- Have tested positive for COVID-19.
- Have known exposure to an individual who has tested positive;
- Do not have a safe option where they can isolate or quarantine.
Safe Haven is the result of Allegheny County pulling together its experts in health and social services. Restricting the spread of COVID-19 by providing vulnerable individuals with a private space to safely isolate in keeps our communities at-large healthy. It’s pandemic 101. We know from decades of experience with supportive housing programs that providing individuals and families access to safe housing is essential in keeping them healthy. Programming at Safe Haven is no different because just like those supportive housing programs it’s working in keeping people and communities safe.
CHS operates Safe Haven with a small group of staff and a number of volunteers who vary in their contact with the facility. Some volunteers perform essential tasks like shopping for and dropping off supplies while others put together supply kits at the facility. If you’d like to volunteer, email Sarah Nesbella at [email protected]. To donate so we can continue funding essential PPE supplies for staff, please visit the CHS website.
Wear masks and carry on,