Evictions Will Kill People. Stop Them. Now.

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I was talking this evening with a friend who works at DeKalb Medical Center. He’s thinking about quitting. He’s talking about it openly. He’s laughing a bit, but I can hear the tension, the frustration, and the fear.

Seven years ago, my mother found herself waiting in a state of dysfunction at Grady Memorial’s emergency room for more than 24 hours for care, a moment that radically altered my life. I’ve been an advocate for public healthcare and indigent care ever since, and I have been watching the transformation of Grady’s emergency department since in a state of wonder.

Consider, then, my heartbreak when a sewage pipe burst in December, throwing the entire emergency ecosystem of metro Atlanta into disarray. For the first time in forever, Grady’s emergency room went on diversion — the hospital of last resort became the hospital of no resort. Other hospitals have had to pick up the slack, like Emory Midtown, Atlanta Medical Center … and DeKalb Medical.

Patients have been regularly waiting for emergency room beds in the waiting areas of hospitals around Atlanta in ways that were unusual at best, at unthinkable at worst, for months. That’s DeKalb Medical today, right now. And that’s before COVID-19 begins to fill beds in earnest.

“There’s nothing I can do about this,” he said. “I may need to get out of the way.”

I was on a conference call with homelessness care providers this afternoon. We’re trying to plan out how to address this novel coronavirus for symptomatic cases who are unhoused or living in shelters with dozens of other people.

Ironically, years of problems with tuberculosis at Peachtree and Pine created a testing regime that can be modified to screen for COVID-19 symptoms. People who have symptoms will be sent to the hospital for testing.

But, there are no dedicated vehicles yet to transport people from shelters to the hospital for testing yet. A request has been made for funding to cover that cost. The system is going to borrow some vans until they get it, with allowances made for Lysol after the fact.

Grady has one patient under observation for COVID-19. That patient, we were told, is homeless.

None of the local hospitals can do the testing themselves yet. All the tests are sent to the state, with a turnaround time of two to three days. Grady will get testing capabilities in a week or so, we were told. They will be able to process six tests an hour.

Whoever is supplying Grady with hand sanitizer — and I will find out who — has jacked the price up threefold.

Homeless patients who test negative can be sent back to a shelter, but those who have the disease will be sent instead to isolate in hotel rooms — the same protocol the state follows with tuberculosis positives. One assumes that those who require more intense isolation or hospitalization will be sent to Camp Covid, Hard Labor Creek State Park.

I am … concerned.

From time to time, I lay down a marker on these pages. These are my apprehensions, my best guesses, my suppositions. Here’s one.

Homelessness had already been rising in Atlanta. The average two-bedroom in the city is around $1450 a month, while more than 300,000 households in metro Atlanta — one household in seven — earn $21,000 a year or less. One out of 16 households in the city faced an eviction last year.

People at the bottom of the income ladder simply cannot take time off of work, either for sickness or to avoid sickness, without being paid. Without some relief for this, those homeless shelter counts aren’t just going to climb; they’re going to explode. And the emergency system here, which is already fraying at the edges, will simply break.

Evictions across metro Atlanta must stop. Now. All of them. There must be no risk of homelessness created by refraining from work, or people are going to die.


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