NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WDRB) –- The homeless, lacking access to bathrooms and hygiene products, are at a high risk of getting COVID-19. So the Floyd County Family YMCA is stepping in to help protect this vulnerable population.

Kim Hunt Payne runs We the People of New Albany, a group dedicated to providing food and supplies to the homeless. In the process of serving the vulnerable population, it became evident they faced a heightened risk of catching the virus because of their living situations.

“They’re telling me they have to use the alleys to go to the bathroom, because nothing is open. It’s inhumane,” Payne said.

The homeless regularly use restrooms in places easily accessible like gas stations, fast food restaurants, public parks and libraries. Since all of that is closed to the public, Payne said it is creating an unhealthy situation for the homeless and the rest of the community.

“It’s important for any of us to have a bathroom to go to,” Payne said. “And it’s very important that the homeless keep themselves clean and their hands washed. Because if not, they’re going to be passing it back and forth.”

The virus has the capability of spreading rapidly through the homeless community, which could lead to a high death count and an immediate need to divert medical resources away from the rest of the public. Similar to what is happening in several nursing home communities.

Dr. Tom Harris, with the Floyd County Health Department, said the homeless are at a higher risk because they have little access to health care, supplies and clean water and if they get sick, it can happen quickly.

Payne said she did not have any luck trying to get the public restrooms in area parks to stay open. So she reached out to Indiana state representative Ed Clere for help, and he reached out to Jeff Jaehnen with the Floyd County YMCA.

“Instead of hesitating or looking for reasons to say ‘no’, he immediately started trying to find a way to say ‘yes,’” said Clere. “The YMCA is a wonderful community organization, and this just underscores their commitment to the community.”

Starting Monday, the YMCA located in downtown New Albany will open its doors for the homeless to shower and clean up.

The YMCA will be open on the following days:

• Monday from noon to 4:00 p.m.

• Tuesday from 3:00-6:00 p.m.

• Wednesday from noon to 4:00 p.m.

• Friday from noon to 4:00 p.m.

Steve Tarver, CEO of the YMCA Greater Louisville, said after the organization was approached by Clere, the YMCA spent a week vetting all the possibilities to decide if it was a good idea and how to do it safely. To make sure all safety precautions are taken and social distancing is followed, people will have to stand outside six feet apart before being screened and then let into the building. Harris said they will also be using a separate entrance to the facility and not the main entrance.

Exit 0, another local group that serves the homeless, will be in charge of the screening and check-in process, which includes taking everyone’s temperature. If someone is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, that person will be referred to immediate medical care. If the person is deemed safe and healthy, then an escort will bring that person inside to one of four available showers. The organization will also have clothing and other supplies available should anyone need them.

Each person will be limited to the amount of time they can spend in the bathroom washing up. Then the YMCA has a specialized cleaning crew to disinfect each shower in between each use.

Tarver said once it was decided they could do this safely, he knew this collaboration was important to take on because it’s rooted in the YMCA’s heritage and mission to serve.

“We were founded and exist to love and serve others, to meet our community needs by collaborating together. Our mission of service has stayed the same for decades. And we’ll continue to serve even through this COVID-19 crisis,” Tarver said.

There are not any current plans to expand this shower service to any other local YMCA locations. However, Clere said he is working to set up portable bathrooms and hand washing stations near the downtown New Albany location.

“The YMCA has their own struggles right now, yet they are willing to help others who are struggling,” said Clere. “By helping protect the homeless, we’re helping protect the rest of the community.”

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