CHICAGO (CBS) — Advocates for the homeless in Chicago on Tuesday called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to do more to protect the medically vulnerable, by opening up vacant Chicago Housing Authority units during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 50 cars drove around City Hall as advocates demanded the city help flatten the COVID-19 curve by providing permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness.

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The activists said confirmed COVID-19 cases among the city’s homeless shelter population now range between 30% to 45%. They said part of the problem is that social distancing is impossible at a shelter or tent encampment.

Advocates argued the mayor is ignoring one option. They said the Chicago Housing Authority has nearly 2,000 vacant public housing units they want the mayor to put to use so that the medically vulnerable can get out of homeless shelters.

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“House some people. We’re dying on the streets,” said Cheryl Johnson, of the Altgeld Gardens public housing community.

“Having a pocket of vulnerable population who is not protected, whose response has not been on par and equitable and parallel to the response of the regular population – who have the privilege and the capacity to shelter in place in smaller groups – this is  a weakness within the city’s overall response,” said Dr. Susan Cheng, an epidemiologist with the Illinois Public Health Association. “I think it needs to be addressed as such, that this is part of a wider epidemiological public health response, where this population will continue to foment and to grow the number of cases until a better response is reached.”

Activists said, if nothing is done, it’s not just the homeless who will be affected; shelter workers, volunteers, and the public will be at risk as well.

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