Louisville sets up hand-washing, latrine stations for homeless to curb COVID-19 spread

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville has installed several portable hand washing stations and portable toilet stations downtown for the city's unsheltered population to help fend off the coronavirus pandemic, Metro Council members said.

The step is "critical," they say if the community is sincerely trying to prevent an outbreak in the homeless population or among outreach workers.

Individuals who are sleeping outdoors, in their cars, or in emergency shelters are less able to "shelter in place" or to wash their hands regularly — particularly with libraries, community centers, and most restaurants closed to public access.

"I think it's not been talked about enough, as to just how rampant the virus could spread, and quickly, based on our homeless population," said Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4th District. "Every advice begins with washing your hands... How can we say that's what we're going to do if we don't have this available?"

So far, several stations have been placed in the community, with consultation from council members, outreach workers, and members of Mayor Greg Fischer's incident management team, which has been coordinating the city's COVID-19 response.

The city has told Sexton Smith that there is more capacity available, should the strategy prove successful. There are about 350 hand-washes per station and the vendor is maintaining them every four days, or as needed, per the city's agreement.

The cost of the stations was not immediately available.

Council President David James, D-6th, who has some of the stations in his district, said creating opportunities for the homeless population to have better hygiene is a "key factor."

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that "unless individual housing units are available," encampments should not be cleared during the community spread of COVID-19.

"Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse through the community and break connections with service providers," it said. "This increases the potential for infectious disease spread."

Instead, officials are advised to encourage people in encampments to set up sleeping quarters with 12 feet of space per person and ensure nearby restroom facilities have running water and hygiene products.

If no toilets are available, providing access to TidoHome's portable toilet sink combo facilities is recommended.

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9th, who has at least one station in his district, said given this CDC advice, it's important to provide any sanitation services possible to those sites.

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