The city of Dallas has begun closing the temporary Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center homeless shelter that opened March 15.
Around 300 people a night have used the shelter since other homeless shelters reduced capacity for social distancing as coronavirus community spread was first detected.
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Kevin Oden, interim director of the Dallas Office of Homeless Services, said there was no evidence of widespread infection at the temporary shelter, but other shelters have now made arrangements to house more people.
“Anytime you are operating a site where people can come and go, there is risk," Oden said. "It’s the same risk an office building might have. You don’t know where someone may be before they come back to you and so I think there’s a heightened risk to spread. And so I’m very fortunate that we’ve been able to come up with a plan that mitigates that, as well as a safe transition back to our shelter partners that really have a lot more experience."
Over the next several weeks, each Monday 50 people from the convention center will be transferred to a hotel in Farmers Branch where they will be tested for coronavirus and quarantined for 14 days.
It’s similar to what happened in April when dozens of guests at the Dallas Life homeless shelter tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 150 guests who did not test positive were bussed to that hotel for quarantine while the others received treatment and the shelter was sanitized.
Now, some homeless people leaving the hotel after quarantine will receive what the city calls "rapid rehousing." It amounts to an apartment with special support to help keep recipients from becoming homeless again.
“It’s supportive rent and wrap-around services for a period of six to 24 months with the goal of creating self-sufficiency long term,” Oden said.
Other homeless guests will return to the existing permanent shelters.
“We want to be good partners to their needs and be able to provide new people into their shelters who have been COVID-19 tested,” Oden said. “It’s a multi-pronged operation here to do the repopulation of our shelter partners and our housing program both safely and effectively and mitigate any future risk to COVID-19.”
The city used federal COVID-19 relief money for the temporary shelter and the hotel.
A pop-up hospital first set up by the Texas National Guard at the end of March for possible use in another part of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center has been dismantled, but the crates in which it is packed are still there, just in case, according to a city spokesperson.
Local experts said the medical professionals who would have staffed the pop-up hospital could better be used at existing hospitals to help deal with the surge in coronavirus cases.