In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Street Medicine Detroit, a Wayne State University School of Medicine student-led organization committed to serving the unreached homeless population of Detroit, has built a series of Field Hand-Washing Stations and placed them near soup kitchens and in homeless encampments throughout the city. The stations allow those who live on the streets to clean and sanitize their hands if they don’t have access to a sink or bathroom during the crisis.
The stations were all installed by April 9.
“While many of us may take this simple act of hygiene for granted, a number of encampment residents have expressed gratitude and excitement to have the ability to wash their hands in their camps while businesses and public facilities are closed during the pandemic,” said Class of 2021 student Amanda Manly, president of Street Medicine Detroit. “SMD has been concerned for our friends on the street as their situations make them especially vulnerable to infections. Our goal is to maximize their health and safety. It is our hope that these stations will aid in doing so.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists hand-washing as one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We had a small team of students who contacted more than thirty box stores. We were fortunate enough to have the majority of the necessary items donated from Home Depot in Allen Park, Mich., and Target in Southfield, Mich.,” said Class of 2022 student Lianna Foster-Bey, project lead and member of Street Medicine Detroit. “This was a community effort, and we couldn’t have done it without the many donations of supplies, time and resources.”
In addition to setting up six Field Hand-Washing Stations in Detroit, SMD and partner organization, Detroit Street Care, also created an online Field Hand-Washing Station How-To Guide, which gives directions on how to procure items, supplies needed per station, and instructions on how to fill and refill the stations.
Since the Field Hand-Washing Stations were implemented in Detroit, SMD and DSC have continued to receive positive feedback from encampment residents, as well as requests for assistance from other Street Medicine programs around the country interested in setting up stations of their own.
“These hand-washing stations that you all are giving out are very helpful, you know? The hand-wipes, they work okay and all that, but all they do is just smear the dirt and grime and all that, and you still have it on your hands,” said one man using a station at an encampment. “These are actually like you can wash yourself in your own sink. It might be a little cold, but what the hell, do what you got to do! We need a lot of them, not just one or two. We need a lot of them.”
Founded in 2012, Street Medicine Detroit’s mission is to ensure access to quality medical care for Detroit’s unreached and service-resistant homeless population. Through direct and regular outreach, they work to bridge the gaps between the homeless and medical communities by building relationships and offering companionship and respect. In doing so, they hope to also address their unique psychosocial and health care needs.