Cincinnati has a plan to help homeless individuals who need to be quarantined. What about families?

'These are the unseen faces of homelessness'
Former Bethany House client
Posted at 5:39 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 21:44:22-04

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

CINCINNATI — The city of Cincinnati’s plan to use the Over-the-Rhine Recreation Center to offer people who are homeless a safe place to quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic leaves out one important group: families.

On any given day, Bethany House Services has between 150 and 170 people in its five shelters, and between 100 and 120 of them are children, said Executive Director Susan Schiller.

“These are the unseen faces of homelessness,” she said.

Bethany House is the largest of four shelters in Cincinnati and Hamilton County that serve families experiencing homelessness, and it’s already struggling to keep up with what its families need, Schiller said.

“We’re having problems just feeding people,” she said.

Bethany House usually buys 20 gallons of milk at a time, for example, and now the shelter is limited to two gallons just like a typical household.

The other three family shelters -- Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati and shelters operated by the YWCA and Salvation Army -- are struggling with the new pressures that the pandemic presents, too.

“All of the shelters are dealing with the same issues,” she said. “But it’s complicated by the children.”

Schiller praised the work the city has done to coordinate homeless shelter operators and other advocates.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Patrick Duhaney announced Tuesday that the Over-the-Rhine Recreation Center would be used to quarantine individuals experiencing homelessness who needed a safe, dignified place to stay for up to 14 days.

The recreation center currently has 10 available beds and can accommodate up to 20, city officials said.

Schiller said there was talk of housing families that needed to quarantine in the same facility, but family shelter operators said that simply wouldn’t work.

Now city officials are exploring other options, she said, including “commandeering a hotel” and using empty rooms to accommodate families that need to be quarantined.

A city spokesman confirmed that other options are under consideration but did not offer specifics.

“The City of Cincinnati is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling the COVID-19 public health emergency,” spokesman Casey Weldon wrote in a text. “The administration is working closely with social service agencies on a plan for serving those experiencing homelessness as well as other vulnerable populations.”

He added that the city is “exploring the possibility of repurposing a City facility or facilities to meet, as needed, isolation and quarantine needs for homeless individuals.”

Schiller said she and her colleagues who operate family shelters in Hamilton County are confident the city wants to help their clients, too.

“We’re all in this together, and we’re all trying to share information. We’re writing new procedures as we speak,” she said. “Nobody in the world has been through anything like this.”

More information about Bethany House Services and how you can help is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:


  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.


  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.


  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms, but it can be spread even at asymptomatic stages.