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Diary From The Coronavirus Frontlines: ‘A Few Moments Of Crying’

Homeless encampments on Skid Row, photographed on June 30, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (James Bernal for KPCC) James Bernal
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Yesterday, I spoke with a nurse practitioner, Carrie Belin, who’s part of Saban Community Clinic’s street medicine team in Hollywood, which treats patients where they live — on the streets.

Treating the unsheltered poses its own challenges, but in a pandemic it’s even harder.

With the pouring rain lately, she was concerned, especially now that L.A. County officials have announced at least 18 unsheltered people who are positive for COVID-19. After she finished her shift she told me:

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“I find myself wondering how my patients are doing at night. Whether or not they're going to have symptoms that are going to mimic COVID-19.”

Because of the lack of testing available, she said having to discern between a cold or flu or COVID-19 makes her nervous. She said she’s also worried about simply finding unsheltered people who are at particularly high-risk of getting the virus. Unlike most people, the unsheltered don’t always have a phone or internet access.

“Trying to find people is really tough,” she said. “Many of the facilities where we would generally end up having engagement like libraries are closed.”

And when their team does find a patient with any symptoms, it can be hard to get that homeless person to accept treatment or services—like going to a shelter or quarantine unit.

“For many people, and especially people that are marginalized, that having any interaction with authority or with healthcare professionals can be a prejudicial and very triggering type of environment or experience,” Belin said.

The distrust among the homeless community can be palpable.

In one case, a patient with a new cough was being resistant to help. She said that to convince him to isolate, they finally had to provide him a tent.

“I've had a few moments of crying and stuff. This is really hard work,” She said. “And it sometimes feels really hopeless.”