By Jim Berry

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The coronavirus crisis is taking the resources of those helping South Florida’s homeless population. On top of that, social distancing is adding another layer of complexity.

“Our donations have taken a hit. The community has taken a hit, but we are still here serving the people,” said Antonio Villasoso, who runs the Miami Rescue Mission.

The Miami Rescue Mission is one of several South Florida homeless shelters forced to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to feeding and housing the homeless, the rules of engagement have changed.

“We’re doing lunch differently, handling intake differently,” said Villasoso. “As you notice, inside to practice social distancing… all of our chairs now are separated six feet apart. ”

For the past five weeks, the Homeless Trust has been on South Florida streets making sure those with no place to live know what they must do to stay safe.

“You stay safe vigorously washing your hands… and you stay safe by doing this every hour,” said Homeless Trust Chairman Ron Book.

Book said all of the Homeless Trust’s shelters swiftly developed a COVID-19 action plan – from passing out hand sanitizers on the street to weeding out individuals who have tested positive.

So far, there’s only been a handful of positive cases.

“What worries me most is that we get hit with an outbreak inside one of our shelters and we are not able to catch it in time to mitigate the spread,” Book said.

The Homeless Trust has emergency plans to put some homeless people in unused hotel rooms – even going so far as to arrange transportation to get them there.

When asked if such an elaborate plan was sustainable long term, Book flinched.

“While you may believe that may not be practical, our approach is that we do not have a choice,” he said.  “For us to meet this crisis, our plan must be sustainable.”

More than 2,500 people use South Florida homeless shelters every day, with Book estimating at least a thousand more living on the street.

While the nation hopes this pandemic is a one-shot deal, Book said his team wants to be prepared in case there’s an encore.

“There are doctors who deal with infectious diseases who will tell you that this could be back in the fall,” he said. “We have to be prepared in case that happens.”

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Jim Berry

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