by Joyce Bolinger
Early this spring, a nightmarish scenario threatened local agencies who serve people experiencing homelessness: the virus could rampage through shelters, meal lines, and outdoor “camps,” costing many lives and accelerating its spread throughout Tucson.
“People experiencing homelessness move throughout the community,” thus risking exposure and a wider citywide infection rate of COVID-19, according to Beth Carey, Chief Operating Officer of The Primavera Foundation.
In fact, the low numbers of cases, so far, among the homeless population is a little-known Tucson success story. This success is because of the quick, multi-faceted response by Tucson’s social services agencies, health care providers, and City and County leadership.
Tucson’s Primavera Foundation provides pathways out of poverty and homeless intervention and prevention.
Beth’s plans to retire are on hold due to her commitment to serve during this crisis. At Primavera, Beth is on the frontlines of those working to mitigate the effects of the pandemic among people who are experiencing homelessness.
“Those who experience homelessness don’t have access to the resources to keep safe; many have health conditions making them even more vulnerable,” Beth says. “They live on the edge.”
Early in March, key representatives of private and government agencies that serve individuals experiencing homelessness convened at the Ward 6 offices. Subsequently, daily meetings (on video conferencing) put into action plans to address issues.
Critically, housing at two hotels was made available, one for people experiencing homelessness who have COVID-19 symptoms, and another for those seen as high risk. El Rio Health Centers developed a screening procedure to help identification. The Tucson Police Department’s Park Safety team does outreach at 128 parks and facilitates referrals to the hotels.
Primavera acted quickly to make changes at the men’s and women’s shelters. They reduced the numbers of people who reside overnight to make safe distancing possible.
Thanks to donations from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, donors and restaurants, meals continue to be provided, with new procedures in place to assure safety. Drop-in centers installed hand washing stations and offer rest rooms, now sanitized between users.
In shelters and on the street, LGBTQI+ people are at “highest risk for assault as well as health problems,” Beth says, adding that most Tucson agencies continue to provide safe and welcoming spaces.
Unlike some cities, a relatively low number of people currently experiencing homelessness have been sick with COVID-19 compared to the at-risk population, making Tucson’s efforts among the homeless a great success by any measure.
“It’s been an amazing time,” Beth comments, “to see what our community can do when we act together.”
As Primavera’s Chief Operating Officer, Beth oversees emergency services, housing, workforce development, financial education, homeownership, and community engagement of the organization. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Arizona State University and a Master of Divinity degree from Boston University.
Beth shares her life and home with Leslie Carlson and their cats, Jet and Max.