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Looking for ways to help the homeless stay safe in the pandemic

The group Partners Ending Homelessness, a local organization helping coordinate the response to the needs of the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, says that a multi-pronged effort is evolving to help keep the homeless safe. 

Connie Sanderson, executive director of Partners Ending Homelessness, says that a Monroe County Shelter Task Force was convened last March. The task force is looking at a number of approaches, including finding available hotel space for some homeless individuals when current shelters cannot safely be used to house them. But she says even some hotels can be problematic, if there isn’t easy access to food and other services.

“Being somewhere where it’s more difficult for you to get to, like food, those sorts of resources. It often turns out that people have a more difficult time, in the hotels," Sanderson says.

According to a recent article in the Democrat & Chronicle, the House of Mercy in Rochester had to close shelter beds after a number of people tested positive for the coronavirus. Its executive director, Sister Grace Miller, is calling for the county to open up some downtown hotel rooms to help house the homeless population.

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Sanderson says that the local shelter population has been down somewhat since the pandemic started, with some homeless individuals worried about staying in congregate settings. She says the local task force is looking for additional hotel rooms and other creative ways to find places for homeless people to stay, particularly if they have to quarantine because of being exposed to COVID-19.

"One of the shelters sort of reconfigured in terms of the population they serve because it was a shelter that served families prior to COVID. Those numbers went down even further, so now that shelter is serving single individuals," Sanderson says.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.