‘It’s hard to find masks’: Protecting the homeless population from Covid-19 proves challenging

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KING COUNTY -- More businesses and even entire counties are asking people to wear face masks when they're in public.

King County issued a directive on Monday urging all of its 2 million residents to wear a mask when outside their own home. But for the homeless population, having access to a mask is a challenge.

"A lot of people are having trouble finding masks and toilet paper and hand sanitizer, that's a concern," says Karen Rigley, one of the many people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.

She's blunt about what she says is the reality for many homeless people: "They don't wash their hands, they're dirty."

Karen has asthma, so she says she really values her mask both on the street and in the shelters.

"At The Elizabeth Gregory home, people actually make them and donate them," says Karen.

The Elizabeth Gregory home provides resources and necessities for homeless women, which in our current state means face masks.

"At the shelter, too many people in a small space, and I have a harder time to keep distance between me and others," says Yuriko Fukuyama.

She, like many others who don't have a home, don't have the ability to truly social distance. For those in that situation, a mask can provide their only sense of protection.

Even the women at various shelters we spoke with who currently have a mask say getting a hold of one if you're homeless if not easy.

"It's hard to find masks, we can't seem to locate where they are," says Terry Buckner.

Another woman experiencing homelessness named Connie says the pandemic has been terrifying for her and her immunocompromised daughter.

"It feels like your resources are so limited and when you reach out to other entities, there's no masks available," Connie says.

Connie and her daughter are grateful for the masks they've gotten from the Mary's Place shelter.

"I feel safe, I feel protected," she says.

While many Seattle shelters tell us they've been fortunate to receive large mask donations, that doesn't account for the many people living on the streets with no resources.

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced earlier this week that 45,000 free cloth coverings will be distributed to vulnerable populations in the city, including the homeless.

Having masks and working to stay healthy helps keep shelters operating during the pandemic, which to so many experiencing homelessness, means the world to them.

"This is where we can eat, take showers, do our laundry, so it's a pivotal part of our life to have them open for us and not shut down," says Terry Buckner.

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