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Hand sanitizer, money, and hope — How to help homeless neighbors and Capitol Hill nonprofits through COVID-19

(Image: Be:Seattle)

If employed and housed people think it’s bad when they can’t buy hand sanitizer in the epicenter of COVID-19, the situation is far worse for unhoused and low-income communities.

“Certainly [houseless people are] at a higher risk because they don’t have access to clean themselves as easily. We’re not getting donations of hand sanitizer . . . but they’re definitely at a higher risk,” Kate Rubin, the new executive director for Be:Seattle, tells CHS.

Be:Seattle is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering renters and people experiencing homelessness. One of the ways they do that is through their Sidewalk Pantry, a program where volunteers hand out essential need items directly to people living outside. Donated items include deodorant, soap, menstrual products, socks, and — usually any time except now — hand sanitizer, arguably more important to people who don’t have access to water for hand washing. While Rubin said Be:Seattle is completely out of hand sanitizer, they still have some hand soap to give out.

The biggest way to help Be:Seattle is by donating money, or literally any hand sanitizer or soap you can give. Contact Rubin directly through the Be:Seattle’s website to arrange a drop-off or pick-up of donations.

“A lot of people have soap they snagged from hotels over the years that makes a great donation. It’s easy for us to hand out. Right now, I’m healthy, I’m still going face-to-face with people. If people in the community aren’t comfortable handing these things out directly, they can certainly donate to an organization like Be: Seattle, where we’re putting things directly in the hands of our unhoused neighbors,” Rubin said.

Seattle’s coronavirus precautions are affecting nonprofits in other ways. The women’s shelter at St. Mark’s, which right now only operates Sunday and Monday night, may have to extend their services.

“The downtown shelter is asking, if this blows up even bigger, if we can open up five nights or seven nights a week, in order for the women to be dispersed out of some of the cramped shelters downtown,” said Norva Osborn, the co-leader of the Noel House Women’s Shelter at Saint Mark’s.

You can donate to the Women’s Shelter through Catholic Community Services.

Another Hill area shelter was forced to temporarily close. Temple De Hirsch Sinai closed its women’s shelter earlier this week for cleaning out of concern for “health, safety and well-being of our guests, volunteers and staff. ”

Meanwhile, Seattle City Hall has moved to expand shelter capacity in the city during the outbreak at several sites including a former rehab center in Bitter Lake. CHS reported here on another location — a new Tiny House Village coming to the Central District at 22nd and Cherry that will create 30 homes.

COVID-19 Response Fund has also been started in the city with help from Amazon and Microsoft to “help people disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus outbreak’s disruption of the economy” including “people who lack access to health insurance or sick leave, residents with limited English proficiency, communities of color, and health care and gig economy workers.”

Gay City, an organization that provides free HIV/STI testing, community education and outreach, has moved all scheduled events to next month, in accordance with King County Public Health recommendations, and temporarily closed their library.

Melvin Givens, director of marketing and communications for Gay City, said that while there has been very little decrease in the number of clients that use their services, “We’re seeing a loss in some funds that we would typically get from renting out our spaces, whether it’s our front space, or our auditorium or conference room . . . A lot of the funds that we get from renting goes back to providing the services that we do to the community.”

While their off-site testing services have been reduced, Gay City’s on-site testing services are still available, with some modified hours. Starting this week, instead of opening at 11 AM, Gay City will open at 2 PM and stay open until 8 PM.

Gay City appreciates donations to help cover the funds lost by canceling events. You can donate directly here.

There are more organizations at the grassroots level that are struggling to meet needs across the Hill and the Central District. If you know of ways to help, let others know in comments.

UPDATE: Funds are also being collected for the Mutual Aid Solidarity Network, the “all-volunteer grassroots group operating in Duwamish and Coast Salish territories.” The group is collecting food and supplies and “prioritizing folks who are sick, disabled, quarantined without pay, elderly, undocumented, queer, Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color — including those displaced from Seattle to the nearby areas.”


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1 year ago

At various street festivals last summer I collected promotional hand sanitizers (each one about the size of a magic marker) from UW Medicine, Polyclinic, and QFC. It might be worth asking these entities if they have any leftovers stashed away that they can donate for the homeless.