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Knoxville's homeless will have a safe place if showing coronavirus symptoms

The Guest House has space to house 18 people while following appropriate social distancing and infection control guidelines.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — If coronavirus starts to spread in Knoxville's homeless community, they now have a safe place to be isolated while they await test results.

The City of Knoxville, the Knox County Health Department and several community groups have worked together to set up "The Guest House" on West 5th Ave. to house those impacted.

It is owned by the Metro Drug Coalition (MDC) and has space to house 18 people while following appropriate social distancing and infection control guidelines.

“It’s important to note there are no confirmed cases in the homeless community right now in Knoxville, but we felt it was vitally important to have a designated place for those showing symptoms.  We are pleased so many community partners are joining forces to help open this shelter,” said Mayor Indya Kincannon.

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The Volunteer Ministry Center will provide 24-hour onsite management of The Guest House and many other social service providers have stepped up to help support this effort. KARM, the Knox Baptist Association, United Way, Next Step Initiative, CAC, Angelic Ministries and others have offered resources including food delivery, portable shower and laundry facilities.

The building will be the future home of MDC's Gateway Recovery Community Center 

“Metro Drug Coalition is extremely concerned about the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable populations in our community. The social service agencies have been working collaboratively to identify how to best continue services, while adhering to CDC guidelines. The homeless population is one of the most challenging and MDC has a vacant building near the homeless corridor that we believe can help fill a critical gap in preventing the spread of COVID-19 among this population by offering the space to our homeless service providers. All available resources need to be utilized in times like these,” said Metro Drug Coalition Executive Director Karen Pershing.

The City of Knoxville will provide up to $95,000 to operate the shelter over the next 2 months and referrals will come from physicians, hospitals and the health department.

The city has also been taking new precautions at the homeless day space off North Broadway. Knoxville's Chief Economic and Community Development Officer Stephanie Welch said the city has stepped up efforts to make sure the space is being disinfected and cleaned daily. Security guards working there will have access to hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

The city said waste collection procedures at the site are also being changed to make the area more safe, and benches are being spread out further with extra visual cues to promote social distancing. 

For people wanting to volunteer, Welch said they want to avoid any infection risks -- saying volunteers should consider reaching out to agencies like KARM and the Salvation Army and follow their precautions instead of independently trying to help the homeless.

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