Government and nonprofit groups in Forsyth County have finalized plans to provide emergency housing for two different groups of people experiencing homelessness — those who are medically fragile and those who have either contracted COVID-19 or exhibit symptoms of the virus.

Forsyth County has secured housing to provide isolation for people experiencing homelessness who test positive for COVID-19, show symptoms or are awaiting test results.

Assistant County Manager Shontell Robinson said the county is not disclosing the location as a matter of protecting patients’ privacy.

“I will say it is an alternative housing site,” she said. “It’s a 24/7 operation…. We’ll have laundry contracts, 24/7 security, meals, everything needed to support people.”

Robinson said the county is prepared to serve up to 50 individuals at any given time and up to 115 individuals over a 90-day period, based on projections of the potential impact of the pandemic in Forsyth County.

“The county commissioners provided us with emergency funding to assist with various COVID-19 responses,” Robinson said. “Homeless individuals is one of them. We are utilizing those funds to address those issues. We are hoping to get FEMA reimbursement on the back end.”

Guilford County announced a similar plan last week.

While the county is taking responsibility for providing isolation housing for people who are sick with COVID-19, the city of Winston-Salem in partnership with the United Way of Forsyth County and the Continuum of Care is working on a plan house people experiencing homelessness who are medically fragile, said Andrea Kurtz, senior director of housing strategies at the United Way.

About 100 people in Forsyth County “have health conditions listed by the CDC as putting them at significant risk of serious complication/mortality if they contract COVID-19,” the United Way said in a press release today.

Most of the eight shelters across Forsyth County, with a collective capacity of 435 beds, currently have available spots, but are limited because of efforts to safely space guests, according to the agency.

“We’re trying to decrease the number of people in congregate settings and get more people in hotels and motels,” Kurtz told Triad City Beat.

The United Way and the city are working on the effort with Continuum of Care, a local board set up to oversee the disbursement of federal funds to support people experiencing homelessness.

Kurtz said the groups expect to have shelter — likely hotel and motel rooms — ready “imminently” for people with underlying health conditions.

“We’re trying to pull medically fragile people into a space where they can self-isolate,” she said.

While advocates continue to work on accommodations to expand housing for people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic, the United Way press release acknowledged the limitations of the resources at their disposal.

“The [Continuum of Care] is continuing outreach work with people who are campers or otherwise unsheltered,” the press release said. “Outreach teams are offering portable handwashing stations to camp sites, and that information about social distancing and the shelter-in-place order is shared. COC members are also encouraging campers to shelter in place. In addition, COC members have met with law enforcement to encourage them not to ticket people for camping during this pandemic.”

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