Hats off to Homeless Services Providers in Puerto Rico: Tending to earthquakes survivors amid pandemic
The ground kept shaking. Struggles to overcome barriers are expected during natural disaster relief efforts. Lack of housing options due to considerable dwelling damage is anticipated. This time, in the southwestern region of Puerto Rico, fear was the greatest barrier. Survivors and first responders were constantly feeling the earthquakes, while attempting to carry out the recovery effort.
A revolving-door phenomenon was present in shelters: New and returning survivors would turn-up with every big shake. In the middle of it all, the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed on the Island during the second week of March. On March 15, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced issued an Executive Order declaring a lockdown.
Back in January, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the area, followed by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake days later, leaving in its wake a trail of destroyed homes and people living in tents, too afraid to return to houses that might collapse during the next shake.
Adapting lessons learned during the response to Hurricane Maria, 25 rehousing navigators had been deployed, funded through the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program. The coordinated effort lead by the Continuum of Care (CoC) Seismic Disaster Relief Shelter Transition Initiative had a clear objective: Match eligible households with available housing units to rehouse as many survivors as quickly as possible. Navigators utilized uniform assessment forms specifically developed for the disaster recovery efforts within the Coordinated Entry (CE) and Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to house 361 households, which included 836 survivors from 16 official shelters and over 30 informal community shelters.
When the lockdown was declared in March, there were still four official shelters with 63 survivors, plus an additional 38 survivors among six identified pop-up community encampments. Protocols were established, and through a collaboration with the local United Way, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was provided, as well as disinfectant and vitamin supplements. A COVID-19 testing program for the sheltered and unsheltered homeless population was established through a collaboration between the CoC, nonprofit PATH, the Puerto Rico College of Medical Technologists, and the Department of Health. To strengthen health services an agreement was made with Doctors Without Borders to perform outpatient health services and molecular testing for the unsheltered homeless population.
As of late August, there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases among the homeless population within the earthquake recovery area. Our deepest respect and recognition for this example of collaboration, commitment, and community driven efforts working for Puerto Rico.
|Content Archived: January 31, 2022|