March 11, 2020

Preparing Vulnerable Populations for the Spread of COVID-19

With growing concerns of COVID-19/Coronavirus throughout our community, it’s important for us to remember our community members who are experiencing homelessness, and ensure they have access to information and resources to protect themselves from the virus. The fundamental reality of trying to survive outside – day in and day out, in flu season, and facing cold weather – is life-threatening and deeply traumatic and challenging on its own.

Cascadia’s Street Outreach Team (SOT) provides direct outreach to assist those who are experiencing homelessness and struggling with mental health issues. As part of a coordinated effort of outreach providers and the Joint Office of Homeless Services, SOT is taking enhanced measures to keep individuals informed about the current public health situation of COVID-19, and ensure that they are aware of how to care for themselves and others when sick, as well as how to limit the spread of infections. Outreach providers will be distributing supplies as available, including masks and sanitizer. They’ll also be providing additional tarps, blankets, and survival gear and sharing laminated handouts with some basic guidelines for those who are unsheltered. Additionally, an interactive map has been created so individuals can find temporary hand washing stations around the city.

Below is guidance Cascadia’s SOT is providing to help protect individuals experiencing homelessness and community health workers who are in direct contact with these populations.

Guidance to individuals experiencing homelessness:

  • Although hand-washing facilities may be limited for individuals living without shelter, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as much as possible.
  • Avoid touching your nose eyes, and mouth.
  • Cover coughs/sneezes or direct them into an elbow, a mask or a bandana.
  • Limit sharing personal items, particularly cigarettes, food, phones, utensils and other items.
  • Use disinfectant wipes that say “kills human coronavirus” on the back. Follow the instructions on the label. Clean commonly used surfaces thoroughly and often.
  • Keep sick persons in a separate, well-ventilated space and apart from other people and pets as much as possible. If that’s not possible, keep a distance of at least six feet from people who are well. If you’re sick, avoid sharing a tent with people who are well.
  • Avoid sharing bedding and clothing if someone’s been coughing or sneezing on them.
  • If someone is sick, ensure they rest.
  • If someone is sick, offer non-prescription medicines, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) for symptoms like fever and aches.
  • A person caring for someone who is sick should wear a mask or cover their nose and mouth when close to the ill person (within 3 feet).
  • Seek medical attention right away if someone is showing the following symptoms: difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, inability to drink or keep liquids down.

Guidance to health workers in the community:

  • Check on your own health regularly, and watch for the development of symptoms.
  • Follow guidance around hand-washing and sanitizer, and touching of faces – particularly after sharing space with an ill person and handling their belongings.
  • Properly clean all frequently touched surfaces on a regular basis.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, utensils, towels or bedding with an ill person.
  • If laundry access is available or is being provided, items from a sick person and someone who’s not showing symptoms can be shared – avoid shaking dirty laundry or “hugging”/carrying dirty laundry.
  • If you’re feeling sick, do not work or spend time with potentially vulnerable people.

If you’re an individual currently experiencing homelessness and are looking for more information on the current outbreak of COVID-19, we encourage you to ask an outreach worker, call 211, or Google “Multnomah COVID-19.” For more information on Cascadia’s efforts around this public health situation, visit: https://cascadiabhc.org/coronavirus/.