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Memphis Hotels Now Sheltering Homeless

Screen shot from a Hospitality Hub video


Some of Memphis’ vacant hotels are being used as temporary homeless shelters. Through partnerships between local governments and non-profit organizations, about 150 women and children have been put up in hotels in Whitehaven and Downtown, where they also receive three meals a day and medical monitoring.

For some of the roughly 1,000 homeless people in Memphis, "Shelter-in-Place" orders have made little difference. Even before the virus, housing options for homeless women in Shelby County were limited. Homeless men, who traditionally have more resources, were also short on accommodations.

The city's homeless shelters, says Jarad Bingham with the homeless service center the Hospitality Hub, are not conducive for social distancing. “They’re based on putting as many people under [a] roof and in front of hot meals as possible,” he says.

This week, the Hospitality Hub will also begin sending men to the hotels to reduce the population of downtown’s Union Mission shelter. Under normal circumstances, the mission houses around 400—but now that’s too many to keep the place from turning into a virus incubator, says Bingham.

“You’ve got 30 homeless people spending their days next to each other, waiting on coffee or a housing voucher or whatever,” Bingham says.

“One of those people gets the virus and then 14 days from then, you’ve got 30 people with the virus.”

So far, the Shelby County Health Department has not reported any outbreaks among the homeless. Director Alisa Haushalter said Tuesday that she was only aware of one case in which the department placed someone who lacked housing under quarantine.

Hotel staff are being vigilant, Bingham says. Guests have their temperatures checked three times every day.

Those temporarily sheltering at the hotels are expected to have access to rooms as long as the city remains under lockdown, which for now, will be at least another two weeks.

“Our hope is that when we get to the other side of this thing is, we’ll look back and say, ‘You know, the world was behind with COVID, but it looks like we got there in time for the homeless communities that we’re serving,’ Bingham says.