40 Prado homeless shelter faces COVID-19 outbreak


More than 15 residents at the 40 Prado homeless shelter in San Luis Obispo have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last several days, forcing it to close to newcomers and sending those infected to motel rooms or trailers, which are now in short supply.

Community Action Partnership of SLO (CAPSLO) Deputy Director Grace McIntosh said that the outbreak started last week, and the facility is now getting weekly testing from SLO County Public Health as it isolates residents who are positive.

“It’s all happened very quickly,” McIntosh told New Times. “I’m not surprised. We’ve been so lucky we haven’t had anything since September.”
OUTBREAK San Luis Obispo’s 40 Prado homeless shelter is at half capacity due to a COVID-19 outbreak. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • OUTBREAK San Luis Obispo’s 40 Prado homeless shelter is at half capacity due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The 100-bed shelter—reduced to 70 beds during the pandemic—grappled with three positive cases in early September. But this outbreak is considerably worse. McIntosh said that while most of the cases involve minor to no symptoms, a few have required hospitalization. She declined to say whether any residents passed away from the virus, which has killed 66 in the county since March.

In a preventative step, CAPSLO has also moved about a dozen of its most vulnerable residents to motel rooms, which has helped reduce the overall shelter population to less than half capacity.

“My [COVID-19] positives are gone. My elderly and frail are gone. So the numbers here are very low and that’s good. I want to keep them as low as possible,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh added that she’d like to send more 40 Prado residents to motels, but those rooms are in scarce supply.

Back in March, SLO County secured four motels to use as emergency shelter for the homeless during the pandemic. Public Health spokesperson Michelle Shoresman told New Times that those facilities, in addition to trailers, have been able to accomodate all COVID-19 positive residents at 40 Prado.

But beyond that, McIntosh said that it’s a struggle to find homeless individuals safe, socially distanced shelter.

“They talk about ‘Well get them out [of congregate shelters]’—but where?” she said. “Now there’s a shortage of motel rooms. Anyone who’s here, they have nowhere to go. Among them are the older, more vulnerable people, age 65 and over.”

The 40 Prado shelter has protocols in place to guard against COVID-19—including reduced beds, mandatory masks, sanitizing, and plexiglass installed at bunk beds. But McIntosh said that the reality is the residents and staff are at risk, especially when the virus is spreading rapidly in the community.

“It’s my staff who are truly the unsung heroes,” McIntosh said. “My homeless shelter workers who are showing up every day, who get paid way less than health care people, they’re showing up every day knowing that they are exposed. They’re still coming [to work]. To me, they don’t get the immense respect and kudos that they deserve.” ∆

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