As the coronavirus continues to spread, social distancing has been recommended to prevent the transfer of disease. However, staying away from large groups or going into self-isolation can be difficult for the homeless.
There are about 6,500 people without homes in D.C., according to the latest homeless count. That is thousands of people without regular access to hand washing and basic hygiene.
Many people living on the streets also suffer from respiratory problems making them more vulnerable to the virus, which is why the homeless shelter Central Union Mission is staying open.
Central Union Mission is full just about every night. CEO Joe Mettimano is grateful there have not been any confirmed cases of coronavirus in his shelter or other D.C. shelters.
“Once the virus gets into a facility like this it can blow up very quickly. It’s a dormitory style facility with lots of human contact,” Mettimano said.
Two weeks ago the staff at the shelter started cleaning the building more and encouraging frequent hand washing.
“We are routinely checking the body temperature of our guests at check-in every day. If they have symptoms we send them out for health evaluation. The same thing for our staff,” Mettimano said.
His worry is for those who can’t go inside because of a fever.
Individuals are being sent to Unity Health Care for an evaluation and if that’s not possible the shelter calls EMS Mettimano said.
Typically places like Central Union Mission are the only option for a warm meal and a clean bed.
“If we are not able to let them stay here because they may spread the virus to others what’s the next step? Our hope and prayer is that the city is prepared for that, and has accommodations for those who may present those symptoms,” Mettimano said.
The D.C. Department of Human Services says they’re putting steps in place so that people presenting symptoms who are tested for COVID-19 are connected with remote isolation sites while they wait on their test results.
Aside from the extra protocols Central Union Mission is running like normal. The CEO said they noticed a dramatic decrease in donations and that giving money is the best way the community can help them right now. To donate go to misssiondc.org