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NorCal city announces new initiative to protect homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic

coronavirus COVID-19 community homeless population trailers oakland california city mayor libby schaaf
California Gov.Gavin Newsom and Oakland City Mayor Libby Schaaf tour FEMA trailers in January before speaking at a news conference.  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • The program will be known as Operation HomeBase.
  • Homeless residents will be housed in trailers donated by the State of California in East Oakland.
  • The site will feature medical support that includes symptom screening and testing.

Oakland, Calif., the Bay Area city which was one of the first to grapple with outbreaks of the coronavirus in the U.S., launched an innovative program to help the vulnerable homeless population contain the spread of COVID-19 cases.

The program will be known as Operation HomeBase. The primary goal of the outreach is to give high-risk housing-sensitive individuals resources to “maintain their safety and health” and promote self-isolation. 

On May 5, the City of Oakland issued a press release announcing the new initiative. Mayor Libby Schaaf explained that homeless residents will be housed in trailers donated by the State of California in East Oakland. The site will feature medical support that includes symptom screening and testing. 


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“Our unsheltered residents are among the most vulnerable in our community. Many have underlying health conditions exacerbated by living outside on our streets,” Schaaf said in a prepared statement. “This intervention is a quick and compassionate step to slow the spread of COVID-19 and upgrade the living conditions of our unsheltered neighbors.”

A total of 67 trailers will be used, Schaaf told local NBC reporters. The trailers themselves will be equipped with electricity, microwaves and refrigerators, as well as running water. The program will also give meals, internet access and additional resources to participants. 

Operation HomeBase will only allow individuals who are aged 65 years or older or have underlying health conditions, two factors that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned are highly susceptible to suffer a severe case of COVID-19. Per the press release, a minimum of 53 percent of people experiencing homelessness in Oakland fall within the CDC’s high-risk demographics.  

The initiative will cost approximately $1.5 million up front, with annual operating costs of $1.8 million. Funding came from the State of California’s Emergency COVID-19 response funds. A separate donation of $500,000 awarded to Operation HomeBase came from Taube Philanthropies.

The U.S. homeless population is one of the most vulnerable demographics during the coronavirus pandemic, along with nursing home residents and meat processing workers. Experts state that this is largely because it’s difficult for homeless individuals to practice social distancing while living in encampments and shelters. 

In early April, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council announced a partnership with the UnitedHealth Foundation, who pledged $5 million to support Americans experiencing homelessness and food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic. 


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