An intimate gesture in a time of Coronavirus: a nervous and touching moment in the homeless shelter

When I learned a Covid-positive guest had stayed with us during the week, the first known case of prolonged exposure in a homeless shelter in Minnesota, and I naively realized there was no cavalry coming to help screen and notify guests, I called Dawn Petroskas, at Healthcare for the Homeless, who had one thermometer to spare. I called CEO of UCare Mark Traynor, a fellow graduate of Cretin-Derham Hall High School, who provided one volunteer. The one who offered to volunteer just happened to be their Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Julia Joseph-Di Caprio.

A highlight of a bad night came after 80 shelter guests wound their way from a line outside to a line inside. They saw an African American woman move to the corner of the basement with one thermometer in hand. I told them that a person of such importance was willing to volunteer her time, asking them how they feel-something that doesn’t happen very much, even by me, and I see them regularly.

Dr. Julia, as she was known, provided the intimate gesture of putting a thermometer in their ear, faces inches apart. When she had screened everyone, people clapped. People who were broke, homeless, exposed to someone with coronavirus, standing in another line, delayed dinner and sleep because we had one thermometer, mustered a thank you with ungloved and partially sanitized hands.

Since then, 20% of my staff has needed to resign for their own self-care. I have 2 masks left. But masks and thermometers have been ordered and donations are coming. Funding is possible when I have time to write grants. Volunteers are dropping off food and needed supplies some days. My phone and email messages are full. Jobs will be posted. Prayers will be said-by us and for us. Meditative moments will occur. It feels like we’re just at the end of the beginning but I’m going to muster a typed thank you with ungloved and partially sanitized hands and follow the lead of a bunch of people who who will sleep next to strangers on rows of mats tonight. Thank you for your help; we need it.

(Read the Minneapolis Star Tribune article: With coronavirus case, anxiety spreads through homeless shelter in northeast Minneapolis.)

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