A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Elite Outdoors, Welcome House team up to be sure the homeless can wash their hands

One of the keys to preventing the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless and between the homeless and others is something most of us take for granted: the ability to wash your hands. Hand cleanliness – a challenge under the best of circumstances for the homeless – is nearly impossible now, with libraries, some shelters and other places now closed.

Enter The Elite Outdoors, a local group that focuses on everything and anything outdoors. This group has worked with Welcome House to implement a unique solution to this problem: portable, outdoor handwashing stations made from five-gallon buckets. These portable stations provide the homeless with access to clean water so they can practice good hygiene during this pandemic.

“Hunters and fisherman encounter the same problem of keeping their hands clean while they’re in the woods,” said Chris Leppert, president and founder of The Elite Outdoors. “This is what we use, and it seemed the perfect solution for the homeless.”

Welcome House CEO Danielle Amrine said the innovative, low-tech, affordable stations have had out-sized benefits.

“Researchers say that if COVID-19 reaches the homeless, it would present a potentially fast-moving hazard – both to those living in encampments as well as those living in our shelters, outreach workers, nearby residents and health providers,” she said. “Handwashing is one of the critical steps to limiting the spread.”

While Welcome House has been able to house some of the region’s homeless in hotels, many still remain on the streets or in encampments.

Welcome House Street and Medical Outreach teams are still going out to camps and other areas to check on people, provide care bags including emergency blankets and packs of food, discourage the gatherings of 10-plus people and share news and education. Now they can add the portable handwashing stations to the mix.

“Help can come from the unlikeliest of places,” said Amrine.

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