Upscale Chicago hotel housing homeless amid coronavirus outbreak

An upscale Chicago hotel has been converted into temporary housing for the homeless in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Right now, 163 people are in rooms at Hotel One Sixty-Six Magnificent Mile. They are all homeless men and women at high risk for COVID-19 that came from large shelters where the coronavirus can quickly spread.

“It’s probably preserved my life, extended my life, being here, because I probably would’ve been on the street,” said 68-year-old Johnny Williams.

For about 3 weeks, Williams has lived inside the hotel where the Lawndale Christian Health Center oversees a temporary isolation facility to shield the homeless from the coronavirus.

“Testing was done in some very large shelters in Chicago. And what was found is that some of the positivity rates were more than 50 percent,” said Dr. Thomas Huggett.

To help stop the spread, about 240 men and women were moved to the hotel from 20 shelters across Chicago, since the facility opened in April.

Guests get a free room to quarantine in, free meals and medical services every day.

“We have 10 doctors or nurse practitioners rounding on people, we have drivers, we have people taking the lunches up to the room,” said Dr. Huggett.

Huggett is the Medical Director of Mobile Health for Lawndale Christian Health Center. He says since it opened, 65 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We want to make sure that if they get sick, they get the proper care they need at the hospital. We are not running a hospital,” the doctor said.

Currently, only five people are positive for the virus.

Dr. Huggett says the biggest challenge now is to find guests housing after the hotel.

“We're almost vetting people to say, hey, private landlords, Chicago Housing Authority, Department of Housing, you know, these folks can be really eligible,” he said.

The city is leasing rooms at the hotel until at least the end of May. The cost is $104 per night, per room.