Flagstaff Shelter Services is housing 250 people a night in three local hotels in the midst of the pandemic. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, the program allows for physical distancing and has eliminated COVID-19 cases among people experiencing homelessness, but it’s also expensive.
The shelter is still waiting to receive federal funding from the CARES Act; in the meantime, it mostly relies on community donations. Executive director Ross Altenbaugh says they spend one hundred thousand dollars a week on discounted hotel rooms, “which financially is backbreaking, but when we started this process we had 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness testing positive for COVID-19, and now that we’ve been doing it for months, we have zero cases.”
Altenbaugh says they have a process to ensure they’re serving those in need, including medically vulnerable senior citizens. But she says the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased due to lost jobs and other economic effects of the pandemic. Shelter staff are evaluating whether the hotel program can continue; if not, the people they serve will return to shared shelter housing.