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    Tiny Herron is a homeless outreach worker with St. John Center for Homeless Men and UP for Women and Children, and the founder of The Forgotten Louisville, a nonprofit that works with homeless people. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    As told to Anne Marshall, April 10

    Photo by Mickie Winters

     

    “I’m exhausted. Doing homeless outreach is always mentally draining. And I don’t do a good job of self-care. But the stress is compounded right now because we constantly have COVID-19 ringing in our heads.

    “This morning it was really chilly outside. We had a line out the door at St. John’s because we’re only letting 24 men in at a time so that they can spread out. No more huddling shoulder-to-shoulder around tables. Usually the center allows 70 or more.

    “Sometimes the guys get agitated with one another in line. Today they were cold. One guy had a really big seizure. He fell. He hurt himself quite badly. He had a lot of blood coming out of his mouth. I headed out there and made sure he had a pulse and was breathing. I yelled for someone to call 911. I had a mask on, but then I realized — Oh! I need gloves immediately! I had to keep reminding all the guys to stand back — give him space, give me space.

    “When we talk to homeless men and women at the center or on the street, we are finding that many are not informed well. Individuals that are sleeping outside, obviously, they are not stuck on social media all day long. They’re not watching Gov. Beshear’s press conferences. So we try to educate.

    “One young man didn’t understand the idea of social distancing. He got to a food pantry and was standing in line close to others. And the lady working the pantry was short with him, raising her voice, like, ‘You’ve got to stand back six feet!’ I’m sure it was out of fear for her health and the health of others, but he was stunned. ‘I had no idea. I feel like I almost went to jail just because I was uninformed,’ he told me.

    “St. John’s relies on volunteers. But we can’t have volunteers at the center right now, for their safety and the safety of our population. St. John’s few paid employees, like me, now take on shifts to keep the center open. ...

    “I’m incredibly glad day shelters are open. If the day shelters couldn’t see people, where would they go? Libraries are closed. Restaurants are closed. And it’s a beautiful thing to see the community pulling together. I mean, the amount of people that have stepped up and want to help, like with food or making masks — it’s wonderful.

    “The city placing porta-potties and hand sanitizer stations throughout Louisville, that is a really big deal. We’ve talked about needing those in areas where homeless people cluster long before this virus. I hope those stay permanently.

    “I got to do some street work earlier this week. Many homeless people need help obtaining an I.D. You know, the chances of having your bags stolen within this population — we hear those stories every day. But right now, if someone asks me to help them get an I.D., I have to say, sorry buddy, they’re not making them right now. All of those crucial pieces to stability — social security cards, housing applications, birth certificates — it’s all frozen during this crisis. And whether somebody’s been experiencing homelessness for 15 years or if they’re brand new to it, when they come to us with a need, it’s an urgent need to them, right there in that moment. I usually solve problems, connect dots for people. I can’t right now. It’s frustrating.

    “At UP (a day shelter for women and children) we’ve closed our indoor day space. We are performing outreach in a courtyard a couple times a week. Today a young lady was waiting for something in the mail and it hadn’t arrived at UP yet. So she wanted to get on a computer and check her email, and normally she could do that in our day room. But it’s closed. And she got upset. We get asked a lot: Well, when is this going to all be over? Like we’re driving it, you know? I have to explain that we don’t know. I hate that. I don’t like people having to walk away from anything feeling defeated or hopeless.”

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