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Homeless advocates push measures to stop coronavirus outbreaks at shelters

King County reports 27 people tested positive for coronavirus at homeless shelters. Advocacy groups say increased space and testing will help keep people healthy.

SEATTLE — As King County shelters see more people testing positive for coronavirus, those who work to help the homeless are concerned about the potential for a surge in that population.     

Daniel Malone, the Executive Director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center says they have been making dramatic changes. The organization helps 8,000 homeless and formerly homeless people.

The organization has been working to create more space and get more testing.

"I don't know exactly why it seems to have taken a little bit longer for this overall outbreak to manifest in the homeless population," said Malone.

But Malone says it is happening now. King County reports at least 27 coronavirus cases at homeless shelters.

"We've had a total of seven people who we serve who have had a positive test at this point," Malone said. "We've certainly done a lot to try to avoid outbreaks." 

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In King County, one way that officials and organizations has done that is by creating almost 1,900 more spaces for those experiencing homelessness so there's room to spread out and quarantine when necessary

"I anticipate that we'll see way more among the homeless population, even if the broader community has peaked," Malone said. "Right now, from what I understand, there are many unoccupied hotel rooms and college dorm rooms and that kind of thing. I think if we want to make a serious effort at this, we should do everything we can to occupy those places with people who really need them."

In addition to more space, Malone says they need more money. Today, Downtown Emergency Service Center received help in the form a $1 million grant from the United Health Foundation so they can keep serving Seattle's vulnerable residents.

The donation will also allow the organization to hire relief workers and support ill employees.

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