COVID-19, often called "the corona virus" is sweeping the world, causing fear and panic, stockpiling household goods, closing schools and even creating a little mockery. But it's no joke to many members of our community, including the homeless and transient.
Ninth District Opportunity Housing Director Michael Fisher said those citizens regularly struggle to get their basic needs met, and can worsen when things like pandemics are a concern.
"Trust is a big issue with our homeless. They feel like they're kind of being pushed around and scattered, and they probably feel vulnerable coming out into the common population."
Fisher said the homeless and transient community faces an increased risk during pandemics like this for several reasons.
"Living in the proximity that they do, many are going to have weakened immune systems, so they're going to be more susceptible, they're going to be more vulnerable," said Fisher. "We've got some issues with hygiene, or lack thereof, so that causes more and more problems. How we're going to quarantine people when we don't even know where they are?"
In fact, Fisher said there are very few options in Hall County for transient community members to gain access to things many take for granted: clean clothes, plenty of soap and clean water, hand sanitizer to carry around, and much more.
"Places like the Salvation Army, places like The Way, places like Good News At Noon and the Baptist Tabernacle, these are places where services are readily available for people to just come off the street," said Fisher. "I'm not saying they have all this in excess, but that's really their first line of attack as far as finding sources of services and resources."
Ninth District Opportunity makes co-active efforts, Fisher said, going out to encampments to find people and bring them whatever resources they can.
District 2 Public Health officials confirmed Friday there are no cases of COVID-19 currently in Hall County. However, spokesman Dave Palmer still encourages non-profit organizations and shelters to encourage proper handwashing and cough-covering techniques, as well as prepare for if, or when, staff members and regular volunteers feel unwell.
Palmer also encouraged organizations to separate ill visitors, if possible, and designate a separate bathroom that is cleaned with more frequency. A complete guide for those working in shelters created by Public Health can be found here.
But, the helpers providing to these communities have to be cautious as well.
"We want to do what's right. We want to provide the services. We want to help these people who can't help themselves," said Fisher. "But at the same time, we have to be mindful of the people in our circle of influence that we can't jeopardize. I'm not personally concerned about my health, but who I may impact as a result of me getting exposed to it."
Since the transient and homeless community struggle to find accessible health care or consistently meet their hygenic needs, Fisher hopes the general public will soon realize that their help is needed in supporting the well being of the less fortunate.
"This is an area where our community really needs to take a proactive measure on, it's something we don't in place at this time," said Fisher. "We have the Good News Clinic in the Gainesville area, service providers like that, of course the hospital and the emergency room. But there's very limited resources to help people like our homeless that want to go look for help in the early stages to keep it from getting in to deeper and possibly more profound stages of unhealth."
Citizens who are able to help shelters during this intense time can always donate their time, or something tangible to keep the shelter going. Fisher said a monetary donation is a freeing and thoughtful gift, and while different shelters and organizations need different things, there are a few standards people can purchase.
"Monetary donations are always the easiest to work with," Fisher said. "But things like clean socks and underwear, water is always a need, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, any kind of hygenic items."
In the future, Fisher said he would like to see the community more actively engaged in times of need, such as opening a mobile or pop-up testing location that would allow people to meet their health and sanitary needs in a time of crisis. However, he said that idea hasn't come to any fruition yet.
With little clarity currently on COVID-19, Fisher said he worries it will get worse before it gets better.
"I think we all need to understand, with our homeless, this is not going to be their fault. This happened way above and beyond and outside of their scope," Fisher said. "We want to make sure the narrative doesn't start making them the scapegoat of this situation. We reach out and continue to provide services and help those who are the most vulnerable. We just need people who want to get out there and help."