Tacoma homeless shelters move at-risk guests to hotel, school

VIDEO: South Sound shelters taking unique steps to help those with COVID-19

TACOMA, Wash. — Those sick are isolated outside the shelter, but there are concerns there could be more cases in the future, which is why the organization moved some guests to a local hotel.

Helen Bennett is one of 55 at-risk individuals who typically stays at Tacoma's Nativity House overnight.

She’s happy and grateful Catholic Community Services put her up in a hotel during the coronavirus pandemic.

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"It's such a blessing to have an organization that cares for the unlovables and picked us up and put us in this safe environment,” said Bennett.

KIRO 7 spoke with the 87-year-old by phone Thursday.

Ten days ago, the shelter had its first confirmed coronavirus case.

"It's terrifying to me,” said Bennett.

Since then, three more people have tested positive for the virus, which is why Agency Director Denny Hunthausen decided to spread people out.

"We feel really good about the fact we can separate these highly vulnerable folks and they'll be less exposed,” he said.

Although he wouldn't confirm which hotel the nonprofit is renting rooms at, he said people at the downtown Tacoma hotel have been told to stay put.

Nativity House typically sees 167 people each night. Moving at-risk guests to a hotel gives the shelter room to space out beds.

They're also handing out meals outside.

"It's very challenging to create the spacing necessary for us to be healthy and to curtail the spread of the virus,” said Hunthausen.

Hunthausen hopes Catholic Community Services will get help to cover the cost of the hotel rooms.

Similar to Nativity House, Tacoma Rescue Mission's also making changes. They’ve had one confirmed coronavirus case and the person fully recovered.

Tacoma Rescue Mission partnered with Bellarmine Preparatory School to create safer conditions for their men’s shelter.

The Mission’s men’s shelter was designed to hold 60 men. Over the past two decades they’ve grown and now serve as many as 200 men a night, which makes it impossible to implement social distancing.

Each evening, they take 50 at-risk men to the school’s gym to spend the night. Bellarmine is providing the Names Family gym and bathrooms from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

“I have been deeply concerned for our guests with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. We are grateful to have Bellarmine step forward to help care for community members in need during this uncertain time, by helping us improve social distancing in our men’s shelter. This is an immense blessing,” said Executive Director Duke Paulson.

Both parties emphasize this partnership is temporary and intended to remain in place while the school is shut down and social distancing is needed.