Wilmington and New Castle County officials are setting up two portable bathrooms and hand-washing stations for the city's homeless, a group of people who have found themselves with almost no place to go as cafes, libraries and day centers shuttered this week during the coronavirus outbreak.
The portable toilets and sinks, paid for with federal grant funds, will be set up starting Saturday at the St. Patrick's Center on 107 E. 14th Street, and in the parking lot of the Church of Saints Andrew and Mathew at 8th and Orange streets.
Newark officials also installed portable toilets and washing stations on Friday at its parking lots off East Main Street near Grotto Pizza and off South Main Street near the Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille.
As health officials encourage six to 10 feet of distance between individuals to prevent spread of the highly contagious virus, the outbreak poses double the concerns for the homeless. As of Saturday, 40 people tested positive so far in Delaware.
Those who stay in shelters are in close quarters, increasing the risk of infection.
Homeless Wilmington residents, many of whom stay in the Sunday Breakfast Mission shelter downtown, told Delaware Online/The News Journal this week that they've been shut out of nearly all places they normally go in the daytime to charge phones, apply for jobs, access services and simply have a place to sit.
The Wilmington Library is closed indefinitely. Sitting in a coffee shop is off-limits amid a statewide ban on dine-in service. De facto daytime homeless service centers, fearful of spreading the virus among a congregation of people, have largely shut their doors.
For the first time in decades, the Emmanuel Dining Room locations operated by the Ministry of Caring are not allowing the homeless to come inside for a meal. Instead, meals are being distributed to-go.
The Ministry of Caring on Friday asked the public for donations, anticipating the need for free meals will grow.
"I'm now walking the streets for 12 hours a day because nobody will let us in," said 63-year-old Cheryl Austin on Tuesday as she knocked on the locked door of the Creative Vision Factory, an arts nonprofit and frequent host of the homeless in downtown Wilmington.
The nonprofit has since set up a phone-charging station outside its doors for its clients.
New Castle County spokesman Brian Cunningham said officials are looking for other locations in the county to set up wash stations.
“We do not know what specific actions save lives, but this one just may," New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said of the bathrooms in a statement. "And we will continue to look for creative solutions to protect our most vulnerable residents.”
Contact Jeanne Kuang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2476.