Q&A: Wheeling Organization Offers Hand Washing And Hope To Those Experiencing Homelessness

Apr 30, 2020

The stay-at-home order currently in place because of the coronavirus pandemic has changed how a lot of us go about our day. But for those without housing, basic hygiene tasks such as washing their hands, showering and doing laundry have become even more difficult. In Wheeling, one group helped put together a hygiene station under a city underpass to provide for those basic needs. Corey Knollinger recently spoke to Kate Marshall, the head of the HoH Share, about the hygiene station and how to keep those without housing from feeling hopeless during the pandemic.


***Editor's Note: The following has been lightly edited for clarity.

Corey Knollinger: Can you tell me a little bit about how the idea of the sanitation station came about and how you saw that through? 

Kate Marshall: As soon as the COVID crisis was really starting to show itself in our community, which was social services having to close their doors, and only providing to-go services at soup kitchens, it very quickly became apparent that our homeless population was going to have absolutely no access to restrooms, hand washing stations, showers, and basic cleanliness. So we came together as homeless outreach workers and advocates to try to come up with a creative solution about how we were going to provide these essential facilities for our folks who were looking at living outdoors exclusively and indefinitely yet needed the services.

Knollinger: This entire operation is volunteer run. Can you tell me the response that you've gotten on that side of things? 

Marshall: We honestly didn't know what kind of response we were going to get. Because, you know, we're asking folks to take a front line community approach to addressing a pretty significant problem we had, which was we were totally unprepared of what to do with the homeless community during a pandemic or crisis. So we put it out there via word of mouth, Facebook, and we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of response that we received and we've been able to maintain the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a volunteer staff because of the response. Now for our volunteer staff, we did provide training and we have ongoing assessments of what we're doing and how we're doing it. We have gloves and masks. We have protocols in place of how to sanitize portable toilets after every use, how to sanitize the shower stalls between every use, as well as laundry procedures and personal protective equipment for our volunteers.

Knollinger:  On the other side of things, tell me the response that this has gotten with those without housing.

Marshall: The [response] from our unhoused friends who are using the hygiene station and facilities has been overwhelming. The amount of thank yous and the sincerity in which they give them is almost heartbreaking because in the thank you you also hear their understanding of how close they feel to being forgotten. And the hygiene station acts as more than a place to provide those necessary amenities to keep safe from the coronavirus, but it's also, for some of our folks, a visible sign that someone is remembering them and that they're not left out there alone.

Knollinger: How do we make sure that the homeless community doesn't think that we have forgotten them for next time?

Marshall: That's one of our main goals on the other side of this pandemic is to put together a plan of action [for] if this ever happens again. Right away, we'll know that we need restrooms, we know that we'll need hand washing stations, we know that we need shower trailers, we know we need access to clothes. We know we need to make sure that food is getting to folks who not only access the soup kitchens on any other day but like God forbid if someone has to quarantine into their tent because they're feeling ill. How does that food get from the soup kitchen to the tent? So to develop a basic protocol in a team of implementation, that we won't be caught off guard as much as we were this time in scrambling and while we got it together pretty quickly, to next time, be able to do it quicker.

Since the recording of this interview, 18th Street Hygiene Station's hours have changed to Monday through Saturda from 9 am to 5 pm. You can find more information here.