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COVID-19 among Boise's homeless community: 'We went to Stage 4 and then suddenly it started to rear its ugly head'

As of Thursday, the Boise Rescue Mission has had nine confirmed cases of coronavirus. Interfaith Sanctuary has had one.

BOISE, Idaho — The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some shape or form, but it was only in recent days that we've started hearing about positive cases at some of the homeless shelters in the Boise area. 

“We went until June 18th without a positive case of COVID at the Rescue Mission,” said Rev. Bill Roscoe, president and CEO of the Boise Rescue Mission.

On that date - June 18 - the shelter went from zero positive cases of the coronavirus to nine.

“We had a fellow who had been on bed rest for several weeks," Roscoe explained. "He had many existing medical problems."

That man ultimately tested positive for COVID-19. From there, the shelter tested everyone in the building and discovered eight other positive cases. None of those people showed symptoms and none of them were staff, Roscoe told KTVB.

Interfaith Sanctuary is now also seeing a similar trend.

“We had been having some great success until we went to Stage 4 and then suddenly it started to rear its ugly head,” said Jodi Peterson-Stigers, executive director of the Interfaith Sanctuary homeless shelter.

Like the Boise Rescue Mission, the shelter is now seeing its first case of the coronavirus.

“We had our first positive test with a guest that was staying at our hotel shelter,” Peterson-Stigers said.

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The hotel is the Red Lion Boise Downtowner, which has partnered with the shelter and the city of Boise and designated an entire floor to housing members of the homeless community.

“We immediately moved that person to a different location out of the hotel, we had every person who could have potentially had contact with that person, they were all tested,” said General Manager Alan Turpin. “Then in addition to that, there was a third party cleaning agency that was brought in to do a thorough cleaning of the areas of that floor and where they had been.” 

Maureen Brewer is the Our Path Home administrator for the city of Boise. She told KTVB the city, together with its partners, has had a plan in place since March about what to do if someone in one of the most vulnerable communities should contract the virus. 

“As soon as we had a positive test we were able to safely transport that patient to our isolation and quarantine hotel and then provide the medical, nutrition needs that they need from there,” Brewer said. 

That plan included having two hotels, one to help house families and those who are considered medically fragile and a second hotel, where people who test positive for COVID-19 are taken.

“So now it's showing up in our homeless population, but we have our system in place, we know how to quarantine, we know how to keep those positive tests separate from the community and it's working so that's a great relief,” Peterson-Stigers said.

Meanwhile, shelters continue to work around the clock to keep their guests safe.

“When you check in and when you check out, we're taking your temperatures,” Roscoe said. “We do have every sanitation process that we know of is in place, we’re being as careful as we can be to not be spreading it in our facilities. We don’t think we have it in our facilities today, but of course, anyone could check in today and in a couple of days have symptoms.”

Peterson-Stigers also has a message for the community when it comes to wearing masks.

“I like the line, 'wearing is caring,'” Peterson-Stigers said. “If I can get 130 homeless people to gratefully wear a mask every day on my property I don’t know how we can’t get our community to understand how important it is.”

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