By Pastor Lindsey Bell-Kerr
Our public health officials continue to tell us that the best way to safeguard against COVID-19 is to wash your hands and practice social distancing. For those experiencing homelessness, however, both of these practices can be difficult, if not impossible.
Those who sleep outside or who only have access to night shelters have limited access to the facilities required to practice basic sanitation. In addition to having limited access to toilets, this population also lacks consistent access to sinks and showers. We need our public officials to prioritize making public restrooms, sinks, and showers available 24-hours a day in downtown areas, including but not limited to Railroad Square and Courthouse Square. These sanitation stations need to be regularly maintained in order to be effective.
Additionally, we need our public officials to prioritize providing more and larger venues for emergency shelters, so that those who stay in these shelters can practice social distancing while they rest. Sam Jones Hall, our largest drop-in shelter, is tightly packed, as are many of the locations for the Redwood Gospel Mission’s Nomadic Shelter. Especially given the turn in the weather this week, this needs to be prioritized in order to offer an alternative to folks from packing in at encampments.
Unsheltered folks are some of the vulnerable people in our county. Some are over the age of 60. Many are diabetic or suffering from other chronic ailments. Most have infrequent access to healthy foods and consistent sleep. We need to prioritize caring for this population now, before COVID-19 spreads in our community.
We also need to ask ourselves why we are not providing such basic services on an ongoing basis, and prioritize making any expansion of such services a permanent fixture in our county’s public health plan.