The nonprofit community organization opened its Teen Healing Center on March 30 for at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 21 who have tested positive or are presumed positive for COVID-19, and are homeless, in foster care, or in an unstable home environment. The apartment-style facility will serve as quarantine housing and provide basic needs, support programs, and treatment services to temporary occupants.
While Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered many facilities to shut down across the state in response to COVID-19, Familylinks is one of several local nonprofit agencies that have been designated as “life-sustaining.”
In a press release, Don Goughler, interim president and CEO of Familylinks, says the center will be able to accommodate up to 15 young people at any one time, with the potential for more as “spaces become available as youth are deemed ready to return to their family or previous residential setting.”
Goughler adds that the operation is taking place in partnership with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, which is helping to identify young candidates for the housing through its Office of Children, Youth and Families.
Also supporting the effort is UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. A clinical team led by Dr. Elizabeth Miller, director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and medical director of Community and Population Health at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, will oversee medical services at the center.
“Together, our three organizations will provide a proactive, comprehensive response to families and youth affected by COVID-19,” says Goughler.
Marc Cherna, director of Allegheny County DHS, says that over the past three weeks, the County has worked to find solutions that would protect the “most vulnerable members of our community, and provide the proper level of care for those experiencing COVID-19.”
“We also immediately recognized the need for isolation and quarantine locations to lower the number of people in congregate settings,” says Cherna.
The response is critical as the county has seen an ever-increasing number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths over the past few weeks. (As CP reports, so far, there have been six recorded deaths and 689 confirmed cases, 47 of which were added today.)
This is especially concerning for anyone in the region struggling with housing, as they are unable to honor the self-isolation recommendations. A report published by researchers at Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania, and UCLA projected that the virus could potentially kill more than 3,400 people experiencing homelessness nationwide and that the virus could hospitalize some 21,295 people who don’t have housing, or about 4.3% of the nationwide homeless population. Of those likely to be hospitalized, nearly 7,200 or more may require critical care.
The AHD has scrambled to provide safe spaces for homeless populations, including a deal that allowed those exposed to the virus to stay at Hyatt Regency Pittsburgh International Airport, as reported by PublicSource. As one Post-Gazette article points out, new facilities and alternative living situations are necessary, as local shelters that usually take in homeless or housing-insecure people can do little to prevent exposure in closed quarters, even with more cleaning and screenings.
In addition to the housing, Familylinks announced on March 25 that it will continue to deliver its various therapy, counseling, and family support programs remotely through tele-medicine, Zoom, and other video conferencing tools. This fits with social distancing guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control, as Familylinks staff are able to avoid risking exposure to the virus while also serving the children, adults, and seniors who depend on the organization's services.
“At Familylinks, our priority remains the health and safety of our clients and our team, and we continue to take measures to protect against the spread of the COVID-19,” says Goughler. “We have made the necessary modifications to our programs and services, in accordance with guidelines set by local and state government, so we can continue to serve individuals and families in western Pennsylvania.”