Responding to Disaster

With the flood of news articles, media releases, and social media posts about government responses to the pandemic, like shelter-in-place orders, testing sites, and economic relief, it can be difficult to see beyond the policies and statistics of the crisis. 

It became quickly obvious in March that the unhoused population would have some of the most difficult challenges regarding quarantining and sheltering-in-place. The City and County of San Francisco, through agreements with local hotels, established temporary shelters for the unhoused population. Some hotels were to quarantine individuals who have either tested positive with COVID-19 or who have come in close contact with someone who had recently tested positive. Some facilities were Shelter-in-Place hotels, temporary shelters established as preventative measures to slow the spread of the disease. Both of these types of shelters provided food, medical care, and other basic needs for their occupants. 

Among these basic needs was mental health care. Starting in late April, the majority of RAMS’ CAAP employees were deployed as Disaster Service Workers, in part because CAAP Counseling and PreVocational Services were temporarily suspended due to Shelter-in-Place orders. 

RAMS CAAP Disaster Service Workers (DSW) served as Site Monitors and as clinicians. As Site Monitors, DSWs managed resources and monitored basic needs for occupants at each site. For the past three months, DSW clinicians also provided direct mental health support for occupants. As one can imagine, those who are unhoused and were quarantined potentially faced more mental health challenges than usual. 

Sudden isolation, although necessary for public health, can be incredibly trying to one’s mental health. RAMS’ DSWs were able to offer a human and empathetic connection to a population that had already seen so many challenges and were suddenly faced with the pandemic. To date, seven of RAMS CAAP staff continue to serve as DSWs. RAMS CAAP currently provides its usual counseling and pre-vocational services on a remote basis to vulnerable populations across San Francisco. As we enter the holiday season, there is much to be thankful for and much work to do. 

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