The number one thing people have been asked to do to prevent coronavirus transmission is to wash their hands frequently.
How do you do that if you’re homeless?
“It’s really hard to even find a sink,” said Terry Gregorowich, who is living on Langley’s streets.
“I wash my hands as much as I can, at the shelter,” he noted.
But beyond that, homeless people don’t have access to bathrooms very often.
That’s one issue that the local homeless community and front line service workers are facing as the province tries to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“Warm soap and water is what you really want,” said paramedic Vince Ford, who works with Kimz Angels, a local non-profit that provides food, blankets, and basic supplies to people living on the streets in the area.
In the absence of that, Ford and Kimz Angels founder Kim Snow are providing hand wipes and sanitizer to their clients to help keep them as clean as possible.
Snow said that there’s a real shortage of places for the homeless to get thoroughly clean in the community.
“Where do they go to do that?” she said. “They have nowhere to go.”
There are a handful of places the homeless can wash their hands, including overnight at the Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope homeless shelter, or during the day at a few alternatives, including some churches, public buildings, and outreach centres.
But there’s no drop in centre open daily to provide services like showers and laundry, Snow said. It’s something she’s been pushing for in Langley for some time.
The coronavirus has indirectly caused the temporary closure of some events at the Langley Friends Vineyard Church,
Pastor Leith White said the church is closing it’s Wednesday ministry activities, including its free store for homeless and low income people.
Instead of having a large number of people inside the church, the ministry will be going out to distribute food and goods in other ways.
“The next 30 days are really key days,” said White.
So far in Canada, there’s been no case of a homeless person diagnosed with the coronavirus, noted outreach worker Fraser Holland.
“I am hoping we don’t have to move past the awareness and prevention stages,” Holland said.
The Canadian Network for the Health and Housing of People Experience Homelessness is collecting resources to help front line workers prepare to respond to an outbreak.
Gregorowich isn’t too worried about his own health and safety yet, noting that as of Wednesday, there had only been one confirmed death from the coronavirus in B.C.
“It doesn’t seem like a big deal, really,” he said.
“At any time, it could go crazy,” he said a moment later.