Update, 3/26/2020: The homeless man tested Wednesday for the COVID-19 had negative results and returned to My Brother’s Keeper shelter, Calaway said.

Calaway said the Holiday Inn in West has decided against partnering with Mission Waco to house quarantined homeless clients.

Mission Waco is continuing to work with other hotels in McLennan County, he said.


While Waco has in many ways come to a stop under a shelter-in-place order to prevent the spread COVID-19, Mission Waco is taking new measures to help some of the city’s most vulnerable adjust to the new circumstances.

Medical personnel have recommended a resident of My Brother’s Keeper, a Mission Waco homeless shelter for men, undergo testing for COVID-19 after he showed flulike symptoms and had a fever, Mission Waco Executive Director John Calaway said. Until he is cleared of the virus, he is not allowed back in the shelter, leaving Mission Waco to improvise a solution.

The nonprofit’s board has decided to fund hotel rooms where homeless patients can remain away from others as needed.

“I can’t let this person back in our shelter for the safety of the other 30 people I have staying at My Brother’s Keeper,” Calaway said. “Currently, there is no plan citywide to house any of these individuals who are homeless, and for the safety of the public, we can’t let them walk around while they may be contagious.”

The shelter has been following protocols to check residents’ temperatures at least twice a day and to take anyone showing symptoms to medical providers. The man who is awaiting test results was evaluated at a Family Health Center facility.

The concern raised Wednesday highlights the risks faced by a population who often lack medical insurance and private homes, and often live communally in various places in the city, Calaway said.

“No one is saying, ‘Hey Mission Waco, here is what you can do with these people,’ so we are working with the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition to put together a plan for the city, but we are working on that,” Calaway said Wednesday. “I cannot wait on that plan to be submitted, approved and hopefully get some funding to come our way, because we have someone we need to house tonight.”

City of Waco spokesman Larry Holze said council members and community partners have formed a collaborative work team to address risks to the homeless population. He said Councilwoman Andrea Barefield is serving as council liaison with several local social service organizations forming a plan.

“We are not doing this all ourselves,” Holze said. “The work team will be working with various social services delivery people, volunteer coordinators, the faith-based community, coordinating with alternative education and other social services as partners in this collaborative effort to address this.”

In the meantime, Calaway said Holiday Inn Express in West and Budget Inn in Waco have agreed to work with Mission Waco to provide rooms for any shelter residents needing to be quarantined.

“In the next few days ahead of us, I expect it to be community spread among our homeless population,” Calaway said. “Again, they can’t self-quarantine and a lot of them have underlying health conditions and are incredibly at-risk, and that is why this is going to need to be bigger than Mission Waco.”

Holze said community partners may look for funding for shelters for the homeless population that are placed in quarantine, but the plan remained fluid Wednesday.

“Everything is unfolding so quickly, but we are trying to respond so quickly as well,” Holze said. “We know issues are not going to go away and we need to take care of everything, along with the social-distancing and order. But it is going to take everybody, because we can’t flatten the curve alone.”

Calaway said until a plan is in place, Mission Waco will be paying for hotel rooms for individuals quarantined until they are cleared by medical staff.

Anyone interested in helping Mission Waco can visit missionwaco.org/mission-waco/ or the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition at heartoftexashomeless.org/coronavirus-covid-19/.


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Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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