In April, a coalition of Huntsville charities and the city released a joint memo discouraging charitable visits to the city’s homeless camps. Instead, it asked help be directed to larger organizations.
In these unusual and difficult times, many in our great community wish to help our unsheltered neighbors. Helping our homeless neighbors is a laudable work of care and compassion, but we all need to understand the risks and the need to practice simple precautions.
As a community, we need to be mindful that some individuals with the COVID-19 virus are demonstrating no symptoms. In short, this means that well-meaning volunteers visiting the homeless camps, could be carrying the virus to our vulnerable friends. Likewise, people living on the streets or in the camps, may look healthy and whole, but could transmit the virus to volunteers and their fellow homeless campers. Our homeless community is extremely susceptible to disease.
As a result, the City of Huntsville reminds citizens that any visits made to a camp are strictly at your own risk and recommends that prior to any further contact in the camps, any persons or groups email [email protected] to provide contact information on your specific group, services provided, frequency and locations visited.
We are aware that some of the homeless population has been exposed to the virus and several have been isolated as tests are being accomplished. Today, we have not heard of a confirmed positive test among the homeless, but we are anticipating that this could be the case. Being sensitive to this separation need, First Stop’s three Outreach Teams have suspended their weekly trips to the camps until the threat has passed. They do not want to carry the infection to the camps. They are making up for the loss of the services in the camps by providing extra clothes, hygiene materials, and food at the Day Center parking lot.
At First Stop, the day center for the homeless, close attention is being paid to the social distance guidance. Because of this guidance, they have closed the center and are providing all of their services outdoors, where the 6 feet standard can be met. To keep staff from inadvertently transmitting the virus to the homeless consumers, or receiving the virus from them, they wear masks and gloves and respect the social distance rule.We ask for the public’s cooperation as we strive to continue to meet needs in appropriate ways while coordinating services and marginalizing risk. For further information, email [email protected].
“The big lesson is we want people to take away is don’t go to the camps. There’s so many people who are asymptomatic, you may be trying to do a good deal for a person in a homeless camp, but you may be carrying the disease,” he said.
“We are just worried about those friends that are not leaving their camps, and are not going to use those services. A lot of friends stay at their camps a lot of the time, because they don’t want to get their things vandalized or stolen,” she said.