Hoteling the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic

Description of the collaborative
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Washtenaw County’s homeless were at particular risk of infection. Partly, they were at risk because they often sleep in congregate living facilities, where infections can spread rapidly. But they were also at risk because homeless populations are at higher risk of mortality in general.

Those that are chronically homeless have life expectancies 15- 20 years less than the general population. Homeless populations may also face more significant challenges when managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS. Instances of chronic health conditions can be up to six times higher in homeless populations.

Dr. Ravi Vadlamudi from Packard Health and Dr. Holly Murphy from St. Joe’s helped assemble a formal plan to ensure safe housing for residents in the shelter. But they also worked with other community partners to secure funding to place the county’s homeless in individual hotel rooms with the support of community partners/funders including Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor.

Those hotel rooms provided more than safe shelter; they offered doors, beds, bathrooms, and telephones and acted as a “home base” for residents who rarely have one. This allowed Washtenaw County Community Mental Health staff and other service providers to check in with residents daily, helping with their health, mental health, and social service needs.

Participating organizations

  • Shelter Association of Washtenaw County (SAWC), Project Lead
  • Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development
  • Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (WCCMH)
  • City of Ann Arbor
  • Packard Health
  • St. Joseph Mercy Health System
  • Michigan Medicine
  • Washtenaw County Health Department
  • Five local organizations: Ann Arbor Christian Reform, First Baptist, Luke Lutheran, Zion Church, and Calvary United Methodist

Impact on community health

  • Helped to save lives and stop the spread of the virus through the homeless population
  • Made locating individuals easier, which made providing medication or treatment faster
  • Provided a safe, comfortable, and clean space to recover from surgery
  • Provided those experiencing homelessness with a phone to make appointments for medical care
  • Provided a safe and restful room with a locking door for security and a shower for self-care
  • Ensured that the homeless received three nutritious meals each day
  • Allowed WCCMH staff and other service providers an opportunity to check in with residents to supply assistance with paperwork for job applications, Social Security, food stamps, housing applications, and more
  • Increased volunteer opportunities for community members
  • Enhanced awareness about the need for shelter for the unhoused
  • Offered our vulnerable neighbors a sense of community, companionship, and stabilization
  • Assisted homeless community members with moving into permanent homes during the most uncertain times
  • Offered opportunities for individuals to access flexible supports and services to help manage serious, chronic issues