The Dream Center, a local rescue mission affiliated with the church where Trump spoke last week, began a new policy two weeks ago where it does not turn away addicts or human-trafficking victims who test positive for COVID-19.
Following the recent decision, about a dozen or more of the residents have tested positive COVID-19, said Brian Steele, the executive director.
"The bottom line is we can confirm the Dream Center has made the decision to not discriminate," Steele said.
The center, located at 3210 Northwest Grand Avenue, houses about 400 residents in apartment-style dwellings and is usually nearly full. Steele said they're accepting people in need as usual, but offering rapid COVID-19 testing for people who are showing symptoms or who believed they were exposed. If a test comes back positive, the person is admitted to an "isolation wing" in the facility, where they are cared for and quarantined to prevent the disease from spreading, he said.
Like many local service providers, the Dream Center of Phoenix had to improvise a COVID-19 policy at the start of the pandemic to ensure it could keep taking in people safely. Its leaders reluctantly turned away some who had flu-like symptoms, directing them to a hospital. But hospitals often wouldn't test people or prescribe them drugs for their symptoms, simply telling those people person to "go home," Steele said. Many people who need services from the Dream Center have nowhere else to turn.
After receiving a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation, the Dream Center acquired a number of rapid tests that cost $75 apiece. People who refuse to submit to the rapid test (which requires blood from a finger prick) and people who are having difficulty breathing will still be sent to a hospital, Steele said.
Medical services at the center are provided by Dr. Beverly J. Thomas-Carter, DNP, with protocols provided by the Phoenix Children's Hospital, Dignity Health, and other health care experts, he said.
The decision to take in COVID-19 patients was not taken lightly, Steele said. He worried that COVID-19 could spread to the center's staff, and he acknowledged that "a couple" of staff members have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies. Steele self-tests "regularly" and has always come up negative, he said. The new policy seems to be working with no problems — that is, there has been no outbreak at the facility, and contact tracing of patients has shown the sources of infection have all been outside the center, so far. And, Steele said, people are getting the services they desperately need.
Just recently, Steele said, a Seattle group wanted to place a 19-year-old human trafficking victim with the Phoenix center, even though it was suspected she was sick with COVID-19.
"We made the decision to accept her," Steele said. "She's recovered fine and is doing great in the program."
The Dream Center organization was first founded in Los Angeles by Phoenix resident Tommy Barnett. The Phoenix operation opened in 2006. Barnett was the pastor at Phoenix First Assembly church until 2016, when his son, Luke Barnett, became senior pastor and they changed the church's name to Dream City Church.
The church received worldwide attention both for hosting the June 23 Trump rally and because of a video featuring Luke Barnett that was posted several days before the rally touting a new air-purification system that Barnett and church official Brendon Zastrow claimed could kill the novel coronavirus in 10 minutes and would make the church's 3,000-seat auditorium safe for all attending. The state Attorney General later sent a cease-and-desist notice to both the church and the air-purification company, Clean Air EXP, giving them until today to remove false marketing claims.
Clean Air EXP told Phoenix New Times last week that the purification system, which rids the air of particulates by using ionization, had been installed in the Dream Center as well as at the church. But Steele said he hadn't seen any sign of the system.
"I'd like to have a couple of those" in the isolation wing, Steele quipped.
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The Dream Center was one of four private agencies that recently received a total of $300,000 in grant funding from the AG's Office for shelters that help trafficking victims; the Dream Center received $75,000 "to expand shelter beds and on-site medical, psychological, educational, and legal services," a May 27 news release states.
Shelters of all kinds have experienced profound impacts from the pandemic and its side effects on routine social engagements. Phoenix Rescue Mission, a local charity that helps with homelessness, addiction, and trauma, began taking temperatures and providing portable hand-sanitizing stations "from day one," said the mission's spokesperson, Nicole Pena. They've been lucky to have friends like ProCare Cleaning, a company that donated gallons of disinfectant so the mission could wipe down doorknobs and other surfaces every half-hour, she said.
Yet Phoenix Rescue Mission can't accept COVID-19 patients because it has a 170-bed barracks-style accommodation, unlike the Dream Center, which has apartments that allow for isolation. Before new residents are allowed in, they get tested by the Parsons Family Health Center in Phoenix. If the result comes back negative, the person can join the general population at the mission, she said; if it's positive, the person is referred to Circle the City, a Phoenix charity that has been taking care of homeless COVID-19 patients.
Homeless people without shelter can go to Circle the City at 220 South 12th Avenue and get tested if they're worried they have COVID-19. The charity no longer admits people waiting for test results to the white tents it had set up temporarily in the parking lot of the Human Services Campus, but instead helps test recipients check into one of the motel rooms available through a city or county program. Circle the City has two 50-bed respite areas that have isolation facilities reserved for homeless COVID-19 patients whose symptoms are mild enough to avoid going to a hospital.