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COVID-19 Just Made Helping The Homeless A Lot Harder

2016 Dallas Homeless Camp
Tony Gutierrez
The Associated Press
In this Sept. 2016 file photo, personal belongings of a homeless person can be seen scattered around a tent that displays an American flag in the doorway in Dallas.

The homeless population, including the thousands in Dallas, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Organizations serving them are seeking new and safer ways help.

Dallas nonprofits that routinely help the homeless have now been forced to change how they do that. One big reason, said Pastor Wayne Walker, CEO of OurCalling, is because helpers may bring harm.

“It’s our staff and volunteers who may go to a Stars game or eat at a restaurant or went to visit somewhere on spring break. You know the homeless community, pretty much, stays in the same space,”  Walker said. “So the only way they’re going to get exposed is if we bring it to them.”

Walker said the homeless population is vulnerable in some of the same way nursing home residents are.

“Not only do they have health issues because of age and underlying health challenges, but they are also vulnerable because they stay in public spaces," he said. "They share utensils, many of them are eating on the streets without a lot of hygiene in place, and then they don’t have any space to wash their hands or take care of basic hygiene needs.”

Walker said his staff has already stopped allowing the homeless people they serve inside the OurCalling building. Extra shelter space has been opened in the Dallas Convention center, but that’s not for more beds. It’s to reduce how close to each other people are providing more space between those beds.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.