On the Warm Springs reservation in rural Central Oregon, work is underway to open an emergency housing site by the end of the year. The short-term goal of the project is to make quarantining more realistic in a community hard hit by the new coronavirus, where large, multigenerational households are common and housing is in direly short supply.

“There just isn’t sufficient housing here,” said Caroline Cruz, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs health and human services manager.

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The seven trailers being connected to utilities this month are open to any COVID-19 impacted residents of the reservation, as a way to isolate without forcing them to leave the area and stay in motel rooms that are at least 20 miles away.

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With an official population of just over 3,300 people, nearly 1 in 5 Warm Springs residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data from the tribal government. As of Dec. 18, COVID-19 had killed 14 people from Warm Springs.

Cruz described the cultural norms of generosity and taking care of others as making public health restrictions challenging, especially for people experiencing homelessness.

“It’s not like living in a city where sometimes you don’t know your neighbors,” she said. “Anyone who needs anything, you open up your door.”

With more doors closed to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, more tribal members experiencing homelessness are relying on a shelter inside a gym this winter. Last year, Cruz said the shelter typically drew nine or 10 guests for nights only, but lately, the operation averages around 30 people per day, who are allowed to stay on-site 24/7.

The quarantine units going in this month are slated to eventually become transitional housing for people without stable housing who are returning from addiction and mental health treatments, Cruz said. The housing project predates COVID-19, but was refocused and fast-tracked in light of the pandemic’s toll.

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