WATSONVILLE—The Salvation Army in Watsonville is continuing most of its services for homeless people, even as the COVID-19 pandemic forces many businesses and services to temporarily shut their doors. 

“We’re planning to help where we can,” said Lt. Raymundo Jimenez, who oversees the location, along with his wife, Lt. Thelma Jimenez. “We have no intention of closing down any essential programs.”

The organization has temporarily suspended its Bible studies, youth programs, Home League/Women’s Ministry and Men’s Ministry programs, but it is still offering online Sunday services through its Facebook page.

Still up and running are the Salvation Army’s evening meal program, its food bank distribution and its family services, which includes a diaper distribution program. The organization is also continuing its donation pick-ups from local stores such as Safeway and Nob Hill.

Its navigation center is also staying open, which offers several services in one location for homeless people such as showers, bathrooms, storage lockers, postal service and laundry facilities. Organizers have closed the computer lab there, limited guests to 20 and imposed extra cleaning and sanitation requirements.

The center opened in 2018 with plans to serve as many as 100 people per day.

Raymundo Jimenez said that the shelter is at capacity with 55 people. 

“We’re doing everything we can to help where we can,” he said. 

Jimenez said that the Salvation Army is currently in need of volunteers to help prepare and serve evening meals to hungry people. Call 724-3922 for information.

According to the 2019 Point-in-Time Count, 2,167 Santa Cruz County residents are homeless, including about 1,700 people who do not have access to shelter. This has posed a problem for county leaders as they look to enforce shelter-in-place orders to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Like all Santa Cruz County residents, our homeless population is vulnerable to COVID-19 but represents a particular area of concern due to their inability to safely isolate if symptomatic,” Santa Cruz County Assistant Administrative Officer Elissa Benson said. “Any community-wide mitigation to minimize the impacts from coronavirus must include plans to safely allow unhoused individuals to isolate and recover.” 

The City of Santa Cruz on March 20 moved several homeless people who were camping on the sidewalk along Water Street to “Lot 17,” a temporary camp near Kaiser Permanente Arena.

The County of Santa Cruz has secured one hotel – and is in talks with another one – where some homeless people will be temporarily housed to help them meet social distancing requirements. 

These rooms will be reserved for people who have tested positive for the virus and those who have been exposed to infected people, said Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin. They will also go to the medically vulnerable and the elderly.

Hoppin declined to name the hotels that will be used. He said that reserving only a handful of rooms in a hotel for homeless people could pose a danger to others who wanted to stay there.

“It’s a bad idea to put patients who are symptomatic with travelers who are not,” he said. “It is not in the best interest of public health to mix those people.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom has allocated $50 million to house homeless individuals impacted by COVID-19, and has identified nearly 1,000 potential sites across California for isolation placements. An additional $100 million is being allocated to local governments throughout the state for shelter support and emergency housing. 

For local information on COVID-19, go to www.santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus, call 211 or text “COVID19” to 211211. Residents may also call 454-4242 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday-Friday.

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