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Greenville to open coronavirus quarantine shelter for people experiencing homelessness

Greenville-area homeless advocates prepare COVID quarantine shelter

A basket of toiletry items awaits use on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in quarantine quarters prepared for homeless guests at the White Horse Academy just north of Greenville, open for 10 years as a rehab center for youth. The academy has been closed since April because of the coronavirus pandemic. A coalition of state and local organizations has secured the space to quarantine up to 32 homeless individuals as the pandemic surges in Greenville County.

GREENVILLE — A dozen state and local agencies have come together to open a quarantine shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Greenville as coronavirus cases here surge.

The shelter — previously an adolescent rehab center but closed since April because of the coronavirus epidemic — will house up to 32 people experiencing homelessness who are infected with coronavirus and need a warm place in which to convalesce.

It opens Dec. 28, the Monday after Christmas, and will stay open a year. 

United Housing Connections pulled the project together and Miracle Hill, which has housed homeless people with COVID-19 since the pandemic began last spring, will staff it around the clock, said Tim Brown, vice president of adult ministries at the charity.

The new case count of coronavirus in Greenville on Thursday was 306. It peaked at 535 on Dec. 10, the highest single-day count of any county in the state since the pandemic began.

"We have several sick people at Miracle Hill," Brown told The Post and Courier on Thursday. "We have them quarantined in place. We reduced a lot of our beds so they can quarantine in place."

The 30-degree nights and recent spike in coronavirus cases is only increasing demand for shelter space, said Lorain Crowl, CEO for United Housing Connections. She spoke about the shelter at a news conference in 41-degree weather Thursday morning in front of the building north of Greenville that will house the shelter — the White Horse Academy rehab center. 

Miracle Hill Ministries to staff COVID quarantine shelter for the homelss

Tim Brown, the vice president for adult ministries at Miracle Hill in Greenville, explains on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, that his charity will staff a COVID quarantine shelter for the homeless when it opens Dec. 28 at White Horse Academy, a rehab facility just north of Greenville that has been closed since April because of the coronavirus pandemic. Miracle Hill is working with 10 other state and local agencies to make the $2 million project work.

"A lot of our folks when we talk about our folks who are experiencing homelessness, we think about mornings like this morning and nights that are coming," Crowl said. "Where they will go to sleep and how they'll eat, and how can we care for them?"

The care that doctors and nurses will be able to provide at the shelter, said Marty Lutz, an emergency physician at Prisma Health System, will help keep hospital beds open. Hospitals throughout the area, he said, are "quite, quite full."

Greenville Memorial peaked at 220 patients infected with COVID a couple days ago, he said, and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reports the county's 1,340 beds are 81 percent occupied.

"One of the things we will do here is provide oxygen, so we will have nurses touching with these patients daily," said Lutz, who will oversee medical care at the new quarantine shelter. "They may be here many hours a day depending on the population."

An 11th-hour allocation from Greenville County, which must spend $91 million in CARES Act funds by the end of the year, is covering the space's rent. The Phoenix Center, a Greenville County drug and alcohol recovery agency, owns the White Horse Academy property and is leasing a 16-room wing of the facility to United Housing Connections.

Prisma Health to provide medical care and advice for Greenvlle's new quarantine shelter for the homeless

Marty Lutz, an emergency care physician and chief of special projects for Prisma Health, speaks Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, at White Horse Academy north of Greenville about his hospital's role in caring for patients who will be housed at a quarantine shelter for the homeless. White Horse Academy, owned by the Phoenix Center, will house up to 32 patients.

The project came together swiftly.

Crowl, CEO of United Housing Connections, said she approached the Phoenix Center's director, Becky Maddox, a week ago about leasing the White Horse Academy. Crowl had applied for the county funding, $157,000, in mid-November, and the county approved that money within three weeks.

"The Greenville County gift was critical," Crowl said.

Altogether, the shelter's operation will cost about $2 million for the space, the staff and needed supplies. The South Carolina Department of Administration's Office of Economic Opportunity is providing $1.7 million from its Emergency Solutions Grant program.

Homeless advocates have anticipated for months that a shelter focused on quarantining and caring for people experiencing homelessness would be needed.

Miracle Hill, which houses up to 400 homeless people a night, set aside space in April but found within a few weeks that it was not necessary, Brown said.

At the moment, he said Miracle Hill does have a handful of people staying in isolation at his facility after testing positive for the disease.

It has been a place for people to go who are too sick to sleep outside but also not sick enough to stay in the hospital, Brown said. He recounted one story of a young man walking to Miracle Hill from Greenville Memorial Hospital after his discharge. The young man stayed at Miracle Hill for a week and a half until he was able to reconnect with a family member who took him in.

"He had a fever," Brown said. "He was in a pitiful state." 

Miracle Hill will handle patient intake, and Vital Care ambulances will carry patients to the shelter.

Other agencies and organizations partnering to make the shelter happen are: United Ministries, Triune Mercy Center, the Greater Greenville Mental Health Center, The Salvation Army, SHARE and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. These organizations together will make referrals and help coordinate the quarantining patients with continuing care. DHEC is also providing emergency supplies.

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Follow Anna B. Mitchell on Twitter at @AnnaBard2U.

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