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As COVID-19 surges, a Boise shelter had to act fast to help homeless

Posted at 11:36 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 12:57:06-04

BOISE, Idaho  — In March of 2021, Consuelo Aguirre said she became homeless and now uses the services Interfaith Sanctuary in Boise provides. Aguirre said when the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available, she took the opportunity to get inoculated.

“I just didn’t want to get the chance to get COVID,” Aguirre said. “It’s very important to get vaccinated, especially if you’re homeless, even if you’re not, get vaccinated,” she added.

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Consuelo Aguirre walked along the Interfaith Sanctuary site on Monday afternoon.

As hospital systems see a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Interfaith Sanctuary is doing what it can to help the homeless population.

“So, the past few days we have definitely seen a surge in our homeless population, we had to respond really quickly,” said Jodi Peterson-Stigers, Executive Director at Interfaith Sanctuary. “We luckily worked with the city of Boise to increased the rooms for our COVID-19 hotel into 42 rooms. In anticipation, because the medical community has been kind of warning us about what the surge might look like and when it might come.”

In the week of August 13th, 2021, more than 20 of their guests had to use the hotel as a safe shelter after someone tests positive for COVID-19.

“When we went to do intake on Wednesday night there were five guests standing outside with covid positive results. We knew that this was probably it. Right after that, we started to get several calls from the hospitals. They had patients that had tested positive, were homeless, and needed a safe place to go. Just in three days we went from 2 hotel rooms for COVID-19 positive to 27 that we are currently taking care of,” Peterson-Stigers said.

Stigers said to help prepare for the surge, Interfaith staff received training from the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho on how to use a pulse oximeter to monitor a guest’s oxygen levels.

“It seems though, our vaccinated with breakthrough we are quarantining them, keeping them safe but they are not exhibiting much symptoms at all, thankfully,” Peterson-Stigers said. “But the ones who aren’t vaccinated, they don’t feel well at all. They are having a hard time with food. “We are learning how to monitor oxygen levels so we know if we need to actually get that person out of the hotel room and back into the hospital.”

Stigers said Family Medicine helps determine whether or not someone needs to seek emergency medical attention while staying at the hotel. The shelter’s next plan is to request assistance from Central District Health Medical Reserve Corps.

“Have often times the medical background and also military background,” Stigers said. “Pretty strong credentials, they are discharged to handle a crisis. That's another group that has been holding us up. We are about to ask them to move back into the COVID hotel as well to get some medical volunteers to help us.”

The Boise shelter is also looking to hire more staff to ensure it can provide services to the homeless population. For more information contact Interfaith Sanctuary at (208) 343-2630.