First responders assist, educate homeless amid coronavirus pandemic

The Homeless Outreach Team is made up of GRPD officers and GRFD firefighters
Posted at 10:08 PM, Apr 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-19 22:36:46-04

GRAND RAPIDS — Homeless people are among the most vulnerable when it comes to the spread of coronavirus.

Amid the pandemic, a group of Grand Rapids firefighters and police officers are spending each day among the homeless population.

Grand Rapids Fire Department Lt. Spielmaker is acting captain of the newly formed Homeless Outreach Team.

“What we try to do is, go to the homeless shelters, where we see people on the street, Heartside Park is a big congregating place, so we can make face-to-face contact with the people, talk to them about social distancing, the importance of wearing a facial mask, and most importantly, teaching them how easy it is to spread the virus,” Spielmaker said.

Their work is mainly about education, but officers are also passing out hand sanitizer, donated face masks and have even spray-painted lines on sidewalks to promote social distancing.

“I think a lot of people have a [misunderstanding] that the population down here that everybody goes to one of the shelters at night. That isn't necessarily the case,” Spielmaker added.

Sunday morning Spielmaker said that 14 people in the homeless community have tested positive for coronavirus, showing why the outreach is even more pressing.

“[It} could devastate the whole homeless population in a hurry, if you don't keep it under control. Our main goal is to keep an outbreak from happening in the overnight shelters,” Spielmaker said.

“Person-to-person is always a better message,” he added.