‘Wash Your Hands' Isn't As Simple for People Experiencing Homelessness | Sojourners

‘Wash Your Hands' Isn't As Simple for People Experiencing Homelessness

As we are fighting over toilet paper and complaining about having to stay inside, there are well over half a million people experiencing homelessness who would give anything to have a safe, warm place to lay their heads. As we are talking about social distancing, there is a homeless population that has been social distancing, by default, long before the coronavirus.

During one of the most critical moments in history, I’m deeply afraid that we will miss the opportunity to care for those who are experiencing homelessness in the U.S. and across the globe.

Not only is the homeless population more prone to contract COVID-19 because they have no access to water, cities will struggle to control the spread of the virus if this population contracts it.

There is already a shortage of tests and it seems like people with wealth and power have easier access to them. I believe this is a critical moment in history where we must remember those who live on the margins of society.

I’m afraid that if we don’t act to ensure that the basic human right of water, soap, and cleaning items are made available to those experiencing homelessness, we will have failed at doing our part to protect them in the ways that only we can.

Every single woman, man, and child experiencing homelessness has a story and they matter to God. If we truly believe that God has created us all, that means that we should care for the whole community — including people living on the streets.

There have been some efforts nationally and globally that have made preparations to rent out hotel rooms for people and even open additional emergency shelters. But I’m still worried about those who will endure this entire pandemic on the streets.

Something simple our organization, Love Beyond Walls, has done is create portable hand-washing stations for living on the streets. It sounds basic, but we wanted to ensure that people had access to this basic human right as a preventative measure against contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus.

The idea itself came from listening to a story of suffering from one of our community members named Dmitry. He is in his late 40s and is experiencing homelessness. He expressed to us his fears about contracting the virus because he did not have a safe place to wash his hands without being put out of a public space. His story prompted us to think about an entire community of people experiencing homeless who can’t do any of the basic things the news anchors were advising us to do, like wash our hands. A teammate, Johnny Taylor, and I decided that we could do more as an organization.

That’s when I got a call from my friend Lecrae, a Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist, who wanted to know what we could do. He rose to the occasion and we combined our efforts to create Atlanta’s first-ever homeless sink installation crisis campaign.

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Lecrae and Terence Lester. Credit: Dani Andujo, Love Beyond Walls. 

Dmitry ended up being the first person to use the sink. It wasn’t just a matter of washing his hands, but of reclaiming a portion of his dignity.

The goal of the “Love Sinks In” campaign is to install as many portable wash stations as possible in the next 2-3 months.

We want to continue the initiative through focused collaboration with local stakeholders, governors, mayors, private sector and philanthropic partners. We want to grow this into a national campaign that is replicated in cities across the country. Our work with this campaign will not be finished until we have successfully installed wash stations in the highest homeless traffic areas across this nation.

I always say: Service isn’t an event; it’s a lifestyle. So, there is still much work to be done.

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