CLEVELAND — When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, the homeless living on the city's fringes are especially at risk. With determination and ingenuity, however, a local nonprofit advocacy group is ensuring the city's homeless population isn't forgotten.
Known for their mobile bathing unit and weekly donation drop-offs to the homeless camps, Homeless Hookup CLE has doubled down on its efforts even as the coronavirusand the stay-at-home orders that followed have brought significant declines in volunteers and donations. On Thursday, leader Dean Roff and volunteer Ashley Rosser went to a myriad of locations around the Cleveland area, including overpass encampments and homeless camps on Marginal Road.
"A lot of people roaming the streets, they don't have a place to wash their hands. We hand out these hygiene packets all the time. As I was handing out these hygiene packets, I thought, well, they don't have a place to use these hygiene items," Roff said. "I think this is a huge need right now."
Using a spent jumbo sized bottle of laundry detergent and a dispenser of soap, Roff, Rosser and their team created mobile hand-washing stations that the homeless can use freely. Volunteers will check the stations every other day to ensure supplies are stocked. With many restaurant dining rooms closed, the homeless have very few options to clean up.
"The homeless population is probably one of the most vulnerable populations. A lot of them are elderly. A lot of them are already have weakened immune systems from being out in the weather and in the conditions," Roff said. "They have no where to go. They have no where to isolate in."
In addition to the hand-washing stations, Roff and Rosser handed out bags of supplies, including toilet paper, personal hygiene products, food and socks.
"They need it. The women here need it. The people on the street need it," Rosser said. "They have no one else coming to help them so they rely on us."
Roff hopes volunteers and donations pick back up even as the pandemic is still weeks away from reaching its peak. The declining number of volunteers and supplies, however, hasn't deterred the nonprofit from continuing its outreach. The threat of the disease hasn't stopped them either.
"Every time I go into my car, I'm sanitizing my hands. But it needs to be done. It's an absolute essential need," Roff said. "They are people just like us. It's a humanity issue. They are still people. They need help."