The Corona Diaries: Among the Homeless
By Don Lupo
Certainly we’ve never gone through anything like this before. I’ve experienced hurricanes, tornados, plane crashes, but I certainly never experienced anything like this. It in many ways has pulled a lot people together. A lot of good things have opened out of this. You’ve seen a lot of cooperation between the city and the county. You’ve seen a lot of cooperation between those and the health department.
We’ve been able to work side by side with people we really didn’t know before.
Our people on the street: The number of positive cases have been very low. I actually told people in the beginning that the numbers would come back low. Because they’ve already been quarantined. They’ve been by themselves.
Our numbers in our homeless street people have been very low. Our numbers in our shelters have been almost negligible. Almost nothing because the shelters did such a good job because they came up with some protocols that really worked. You would think they would be one of the breakout points with numbers going through the roof, but they’ve done such a good job in cooperating with one another.
This pandemic has brought people together and they have stepped up, joined forces with other people that they hadn’t before; and are providing food clothes and all sorts of services to our people on the street. They are literally taking care of hundreds of people, three meals a day. That is pretty amazing when people just come together like that.
Our faith-based community has hit a home run. All have thrown in and helped during this pandemic. You’ve had people from St. Luke’s and Canterbury working alongside folks from Ensley First Baptist. You’ve had people from the mosque working alongside people from IPC.
Here is the best thing: There was a guy who is released from work release down in Alex City, he gets to Birmingham on a bus on a Tuesday. He gets off the bus and he is somewhere in North Birmingham. He sleeps on the ground under a tree. Wakes up the next morning and walks down the street. He asks a man where he could get help. They told him the Salvation Army. They couldn’t let him in until he’d been tested. So we took him to where we do the tests and we got him tested on a Thursday. And it took until Tuesday to get his results. He was positive. So we tell him he is positive. This man is 52 or 53 or whatever. He basically goes to his knees and says I’m just not ready to die. And I said you are not going to die, you don’t even have any symptoms. You’re not sick but you have the virus.
He says I have a son he’s 29 and I haven’t seen him since he was 1. He lives in Houston and I want to see my son. We call the son and tell him what is going. We put him in quarantine for two weeks he got out of quarantine yesterday and is back at the Salvation Army. And on Monday, George Sarris is going to hire him as a dishwasher.
There are so many. Tom Saab owns Bocca and Bistro 218. His restaurants were closed for two months. Three days a week he and his kitchen help came in and made 100 pasta dinners that we gave out on the streets. Bernie and Sam at Bamboo fed doctors and nurses at Princeton. Marco at La Fresca fed infectious disease doctors and nurses at UAB. Ted’s over on 4th and 12th: His customers started a fund and so Tasos every day is feeding people at UAB with this fund that was set up.
Frank and Pardis and Chris and Idie (and Mauricio from Brick and Tin)…they shut their restaurants. They gave all their food to the different shelters around town. I am talking about pickup truck loads.
Vestavia Hills Elementary School, the school system, Anthony Krontiras does the food for these schools. They gave us truckloads: milk, cheese, sausage, bacon, frozen pancakes, all sorts of stuff. Jack’s gave us french fries, hamburgers, sausage, bacon, butter. Just truckloads because the food was going to go bad, so they just loaded us up. The people in this community during this community have been amazing.—Don Lupo, operations director, City of Birmingham.