Student doctors build hand-washing stations in Detroit for the homeless during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 12:17 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 12:17:16-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Hand-washing is so critical right now, but what if you don't have a place to stay or access to a sink?

With bars and restaurants closed to walk-in business, finding a place to wash your hands can be near impossible if you're living on the street.

Detroit Street Care, a group of MSU osteopathic medical students who serve the homeless population -- is doing something about it. They've teamed up with Wayne State's program called Street Medicine Detroit, and built six hand-washing stations around the city in areas frequented by those who may need them.

It's not much; two plastic industrial buckets donated by Home Depot in Allen Park. A spigot is sticking out of the bottom bucket and hanging from the top is a bar of soap inside some hosiery. There's also sanitizing spray to clean the spigot. It may be basic, but it's providing an essential service for those who are already struggling to get what they need; moreso right now.

“We’re hoping that these are a short term solution, we’d like to find something a little more high tech than a double of buckets stacked together, but they’ve been working really well," said former Detroit Street Care president Ellie Small.

A DSC team will come by a couple times a week to clean the spigot, on the top of the sanitizing spray that's there for those who use it.

We've met the DSC team before. In October, we showcased their program, which aims to close the healthcare gap by providing those living on the street with basic access to care. Prior to the outbreak, the student doctors, overseen by faculty, loaded up medical equipment on their bikes and hit the streets of Detroit every week to see patients.

MORE | MSU student doctors hit the streets to care for Detroit's homeless population

But because of COVID-19, they're not able to serve patients on the street right now.

“Our university has instructed us to stop, just like universities across the country have. For obvious reasons of protecting ourselves, but more importantly protecting the people we’re serving," Small said.

And in the midst of this virus, area homeless shelters DSC works with are putting new guidelines in place.

“No one goes in and no one goes out. And if you leave the shelter you’re not allowed back in for obvious infectious reasons," Justin Abadejos, current DSC president, told 7 Action News.

Because of that, there are fewer people at the shelters right now he told Action News, and more living on the streets, which have never been emptier.

“I think there’s just a lot of unpredictability as far as resources go," said Small.

In addition to hand washing stations, in order to serve from afar, DSC is collecting hand sanitizer, food, Narcan and PPE. They've already received a lot of donations; anything to keep the people they serve as safe as possible during an uncertain time.

“We always need face masks, we always need gowns in case of an infection in one of these shelters," Abadejos told 7 Action News.

And this all comes as these soon-to-be doctors are seeing their mentors play such a vital role on the front lines of this crisis.

“I feel almost inspired. Like I want to be able to do more," said Abadejos, who has studied virology and wrote his thesis on the Spanish Flu.

He's eager to join the front lines. For now, he's part of an important effort working behind the scenes.

DSC needs PPE, food donations, and hand sanitizer to be able to continue to assist area shelters. They are also accepting financial donations. To help, click here.

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