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COVID-19 outbreaks continue to overwhelm Lansing homeless shelters

Brick building showcasing the outside of City Mission of Lansing. A Cross hangs from the building with the words: "Jesus Saves".
Courtesy, City Rescue Mission of Lansing
City Rescue Mission of Lansing

As COVID-19 outbreaks continue to force three Lansing shelters to halt intakes, some shelter administrators say they’re finding it difficult to mitigate the spread of the virus on their own.

City Rescue Mission of Lansing has seen more people test positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks than it did at the beginning of the pandemic.

Executive Director Mark Criss says this is due to the shelter not being able to completely separate those who test positive. Last year, all those who tested positive for COVID were eligible to stay at an emergency hotel in the area. That program was run by the Ingham County Health Department.

“We've been testing each week since November. And so it's the first time we've had an outbreak of COVID cases. And so we're disappointed the Ingham County Health Department is not able to help us quarantine people off site," he added.

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail says the department doesn't have the resources to keep running the emergency hotel program.

“We will continue to provide all the assistance we are capable of providing in this particular situation as well, including coming on site and doing vaccination clinics and continuing to encourage that ongoing maintenance of vaccinations every time somebody new comes into the clinic," she said.

About a third of those staying at City Rescue Mission are vaccinated against COVID-19. Criss says he will not be mandating vaccinations for staff or guests.

"We're the last resort for help and to turn people away just because they are not vaccinated is unfair and uncaring," he said.

While Vail doesn't believe mandating COVID-19 vaccines for guests is the solution, she says it's important for the shelter to keep track on a regular basis of who is vaccinated and who isn't.

"So we will be there with a vaccination clinic in the next couple of weeks, and we will continue to emphasize to them the need to utilize the clinics that we have on an ongoing basis, and get their residents as well as their staff access to vaccines," she said.

According to Criss, the health department is unwilling to provide medical oversight over those who have tested positive for COVID.

"We provide food, shelter, and hope. We don't provide medical oversight. And that's basically what our health department has requested that we would do, is we would quarantine and provide medical oversight, and all the other physical needs that correspond with it," he explained. "And so we're doing the best that we can. Our concern is that the numbers continue to grow."

When the program was operating, Vail says her staff was not providing medical oversight.

"We had social workers working with housing and sheltering, and providing wraparound services to housing and sheltering. Had there been a medical need, these people would have been in a hotel room alone, rather than a shelter with 24/7 people around them," she said. "And my staff that were doing all of these wraparound services were actually more, not medical providers, but social workers and community health workers."

The health department lost the funding to keep running its emergency hotel program after Michigan rescinded most of its emergency coronavirus orders in the summer.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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