John T. Martin and Thomas B. Langhorne, Evansville Courier & Press Published 6:00 a.m. CT March 21, 2020
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The plea is for “social distancing,” but at United Caring Services Thursday, some either didn’t get the memo or ignored it.
After a hard rain stopped, a group gathered in the fenced-in, outdoor porch area. People sat or stood side-by-side, chatting. Some were smoking.
“I’m not worried about anything,” Tyrone Armstead said when asked if he’s taking precautions because of the coronavirus. “I’m covered by the Most High. Yahweh. Put that in the paper.”
The pandemic has disrupted American life, but for people experiencing homelessness, it’s just one more challenge in a long list of them.
According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, those experiencing homelessness share risk factors, including lack of sleep, generally poor nutrition, heightened levels of stress, limited access to hand sanitizers and washing facilities, reduced access to healthcare and greater exposure to germs.
Agencies serving the population, meanwhile, have had to adjust on the fly due to strained resources, as well as the command that people stay at least 6 feet apart.
Mony Douglas, who said she sleeps on the streets, said closures caused by the pandemic have made day-to-day life even more difficult.
“Everything’s shut down,” Douglas said. “It’s way harder. It don’t make no sense. They didn’t do this before when other viruses came out.”
For Don Caldwell, the pandemic hit shortly after he had accepted a job at a local restaurant.
But with the restaurant closed, all Caldwell can do is wait. He stood on the United Caring Services porch Thursday.
“I need this to blow over so I can get a place to live and get back on my feet,” Caldwell said.
Agency missions continue amid precautions
United Caring Services Executive Director Jason Emmerson said the UCS day shelter continues to serve meals, and while the agency is trying to practice social distancing, one-on-one interaction between staff and clients is still critical to the mission.
“We want to keep things calm and cut the anxiety out there as best that we’re able,” he said.
Other agencies said they are doing likewise.
At the Evansville Rescue Mission, those who walk in are having temperatures taken, not with a thermometer, but with a no-touch scan pointed at the forehead. This started last week.
“We’re taking temperatures at the door just to see if they’re presenting for, really, any type of illness at this point, not just this virus,” Senior Vice President Josh Nichols said. “We’ve begun doing that as a precautionary measure just to heighten our awareness of anybody who could present ill.’’
Clark said he has a heart condition but otherwise feels good.
‘’We’ve got guys in here that have like a chronic cough because they’ve got what’s it called, COPD? Now, they’re a little concerned, but…’’
Clark said attitudes vary at the Rescue Mission about the coronavirus.
“Some of them are panicked, and some of them are, ‘Well, if it happens, it happens.’ But overall, everybody’s keeping a good frame of mind about it,” he said.
Residents know the risks, know what they have to do to be safe and minimize chances of getting it, Clark said.
Nichols noted the uncertainty of it all. “We’ve not really seen what this virus does on a local level.’’
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