Coronavirus: Social distancing extends to homeless with mattresses under Florida interstate

A Florida shelter for the homeless was doing its part to promote social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. In a parking lot under an interstate highway, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul spread out rows of mattresses six feet apart so people could sleep, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Homeless people are commonly seen under interstate overpasses in Florida, but the shelter was not kicking people out of its unit. The St. Vincent de Paul shelter in St. Petersburg has 200 beds, but social distancing forced officials to take steps to keep residents apart, the newspaper reported.

Moving some residents under an Interstate 375 overpass opened up more space for people who are still inside the shelter.

Michael Raposa, the chief executive for the St. Vincent de Paul shelter in St. Petersburg, said the moves are part of a mission to keep guests safe.

"The only good news is it's not July and it's not 100 degrees out," Raposa told the Times. "The homeless are the most vulnerable of our entire population. Their immune systems are horrendously compromised."

Sleeping outside was fine for Allen Nason, 66, who said he has been homeless for 14 years.

"I'd rather be out here in the fresh air," Nason told the Times. "When it gets hot, I'll sleep on top of the sheets."

Inside the shelter, Arlene Johnson, 52, helped make room for mattresses, where 30 women have been sleeping.

"We clean, clean, clean, and use bleach water," Johnson told the Times. "Everybody is washing their hands."

If the COVID-19 crisis continues into the summer, Sheila Lopez, the shelter’s chief development officer, said her staff will come up with a plan.

“We’ll figure that out when it comes,” Lopez told the Times. “This is better than them being on the street. They have showers and food, and hope and people who love them.”

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