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Temporary Shelter Opening at State Fairgrounds for Homeless Iowans With COVID-19

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DES MOINES, Iowa – The Polk County Board of Supervisors announced medical assistance for homeless Iowans.

A temporary shelter is opening at the Iowa State Fairgrounds for members of the homeless community who test positive for COVID-19.

Polk County Supervisor Tom Hockensmith said, “Our biggest concern about identifying the homeless population folks who test positive is how quickly it could spread in that community. Just by the way they are housed, whether it is at the homeless shelter or some of their living conditions, it would spread very rapidly.”

The facility is inside the Youth Inn on the fairgrounds. It can hold up to 400 people.

“We won’t have anywhere near that from what I am understanding about the projections. We are looking at maybe a dozen to two dozen tops in the community,” Hockensmith said.

There is wiring and fencing around the building to keep the general public away from entering the facility.

Kathy Coady of Hope Ministries said having a temporary shelter is vital to the homeless community.

“In order to keep 200 people as safe and as healthy as possible, we need a safe place to treat people who’ve been identified as positive in having coronavirus,” Coady said.

Residents occupying the facility will be deemed medically stable, and nurses from the Polk County Health Department will check in on patients daily to monitor symptoms.

“The more symptoms, the higher level of the symptoms, the more likely that they are going to be tested. Some people as you are probably aware just experience really mild symptoms, but as the symptoms worsen, they are going to be more eligible to have a test done,” Hockensmith said.

Coady said Hope Ministries is monitoring its residents by checking their temperatures, asking them to self-identify symptoms and recommending medical attention when needed.

“We’ve insured that we can space beds appropriately apart from one another, and we are trying to facilitate social distancing as much as possible and enforce that as much as we can, but obviously people are moving around the facility throughout the day,” Coady said.

In 2019, there were 3,764 homeless people in Polk County.

The shelter is estimated to be ready the week of March 30.

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