Wednesday, March 4, 2020 - 07:45

(TNS) — Joe Brown, who lives in a thicket of trees sandwiched between Interstate 5 and Harborview Medical Center, said Monday afternoon that he had not heard much about the novel coronavirus that has killed six people in Washington state and is expected to spread.

Brown, 36, who’s been sleeping on a platform built from pallets and cardboard boxes, said outreach workers have come to distribute hand sanitizer on the weekends. But regular access to hot water and soap for hand-washing, one of the main actions health officials say a person can take in order to prevent contracting the illness, is another story.

“Hospitals don’t even let you use the bathroom,” Brown said. “Starbucks once in a while will let you. But a lot of places around here don’t like homeless people.”

King County, which has seen the highest number of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has the third-highest homeless population in the country. More than 5,000 people were counted as living unsheltered in a one-night count of homelessness within the county last year, including more than 1,200 living in tents or unsanctioned encampments. This week, officials are scrambling to figure out how to contain the illness if it spreads to people in shelters or living outside.

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