Myra Segal and Albuquerque’s Corona Crushers work to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the city’s homeless population

Evaluation Lab News

Posted: Sep 08, 2020 - 12:00am

Myra Segal was the Policy Seminar’s first guest speaker of the academic year. Myra is the Senior Policy Advisor for the City of Albuquerque’s Family and Community Services. She holds an MPP from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Myra shared with the students how she, as a policy advisor, worked with her department and a lot of other departments, businesses, non-profits, and medical professionals to, not only handle, but to get ahead of COVID-19 in Albuquerque’s homeless population.

The team faced the pandemic emergency by working 7 days a week to manage prevention and mitigation of COVID-19. These collaborators call themselves the “ABQ Corona Crushers” and are a cross disciplinary committee with participants from city organizations, medical providers, and non-profits, all working together to combat COVID-19 and protect the health of people experiencing homelessness. 

The main issue is that people that are experiencing homelessness are in danger of being exposed to COVID-19 because of living in close proximity to others, whether on the streets or in the Westside Shelter. Furthermore, if they are exposed to the virus, how can they isolate at home when they do not have a home? Where can they go that is a safe place for them to either recover or await test results, and to not risk exposing other people​? The Corona Crushers put a plan in place early on, and because of this they have kept the COVID-19 rate in the homeless shelter to less than 1%, one of the lowest in the country.

The plan included an in-depth screening system for people staying at the Westside Shelter. The city hired medical professionals to not only work at the shelter, but also to train the shelter’s existing employees.  If someone has been exposed to COVID or is experiencing symptoms, the staff on site can test these individuals. The people that need to be isolated while they await their test results are transferred to either one of the isolation pods within the shelter or to the Isolation Hotel to wait for their result and receive medical care.

Social distancing is another important component of the plan. The city opened up community centers, that were closed due to the stay-at-home orders issued by the governor, to use as additional housing as to not overcrowd the Westside Shelter. The Westside Shelter usually houses about 318 people a night (and up to 425 a night in the winter), but is currently limited to 250 to allow for social distancing. In both the shelter and the community centers the beds were rearranged so every other bed is empty, and people are sleeping oriented head to foot, and foot to head to prevent the spread of germs. The team has also arranged for the city to open a Wellness Hotel. This form of emergency shelter is to protect people experiencing homelessness who are over 65 or have other health issues that make them medically more at risk to serious illness or death if they catch COVID-19. Just as staying the night at a shelter is voluntary, so is staying at the Wellness Hotel or Isolation Hotel. That is another reason having the Corona Crushers team is so vital; if someone who was staying in the Isolation Hotel checks themselves out, the team can alert everyone, and a team member who is working on the streets can find this individual and make sure they are all right, and that they are aware of their test result and even advise them on next steps and medical care.

Though they have accomplished a lot and their COVID 19 policies they put in place have kept the infection rate amazingly low, their work is far from done. Even now they are preparing for the colder temperatures that are on their way, and the next phase of this pandemic, whatever that might look like.