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Caring for the Homeless: Providing Access to Sanitation Stations During COVID-19

By: Candace Wheeler, CDC Foundation

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, handwashing remains a key mitigation strategy to prevent the spread of the virus, but access to clean water, effective handwashing supplies and restrooms can be challenging for people experiencing homelessness.

To address this need, the CDC Foundation in partnership with Clean the World Foundation, with financial support from Truist and with technical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), launched an initiative to setup handwashing stations and porta-potties for individuals experiencing homelessness. The stations, located in Southern Nevada, Central Florida and Puerto Rico, build on existing programing networks of Clean the World Foundation.

“The goal for us is making sure that we’re getting these stations placed as close as we possibly can to the populations that are most at risk, vulnerable and in need,” said Sam Stephens, executive director of the Clean the World Foundation.

Clean the World Foundation has operated mobile bathroom and shower facilities since 2017. This latest initiative, once fully scaled, will include a total of 300 stations, 100 per site, providing 24-hour access in each geographic area.

“When COVID-19 struck, we had to close our indoor services due to restrictions and move as many services as possible outdoors. We did our best to provide a safe environment, but there were resources that financially we just couldn’t afford to supply, including handwashing units and restrooms for our hundreds of clients,” said Carla Cox, director of programs, Christian Service Center of Central Florida. “Being able to partner with the CDC Foundation and Clean the World Foundation to provide these critical services to those experiencing homelessness has helped us reduce he spread and encourage our community to be safe.”

These stations have also provided service organizations an outreach opportunity to those experiencing homelessness. In Southern Nevada, for example, several sites serve as host locations to twice monthly pop-up events where up to 20 service organizations come to offer resources and support including access to clean clothes, assistance replacing identification, substance abuse and mental health treatment, shelter, housing options and more.

“Through our Truist Cares initiative, a cooperative effort between Truist Financial Corporation, Truist Foundation, Inc., and Truist Charitable Fund, we committed to helping nonprofits in their efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of people during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lynette Bell, president of Truist Foundation. “Providing funding to the CDC Foundation to support vulnerable people access clean water and handwashing supplies to help prevent the spread of the virus allows Truist to address this critical need of the communities we serve.”

Since their launch, some sites have had over 1,600 visitors per day. In addition to traditional service organizations like shelters and food pantries that provide resources for people experiencing homelessness, other business owners have joined the effort and offered their properties to serve as site locations, including law offices, insurance agencies and construction sites.

“Homelessness and public health are critically intertwined,” said Alaina Whitton, Emergency Response Specialist. “This project is a great opportunity to provide essential services to these individuals and we are thrilled that our sites have been able to serve as an anchor location for additional wrap-around services.”

The success of the handwashing and porta-potty stations has also allowed Clean the World Foundation to gather key data on the current needs for those experiencing homelessness.

“We want to make sure that we understand: how are these stations being used? What types of results are we seeing?” said Stephens. “We want to know what we can do to provide additional services that help protect people as much as possible, and, ideally, connect them into the broader continuum of care they may need to move on to the path to self-sufficiency.”

On location, Clean the World Foundation also provides hand sanitizer, handwashing lessons to teach people the importance of proper hygiene, and in partnership with the CDC Foundation, posts information about mitigating the spread of COVID-19.


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