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Street Roots vendors working to keep homeless safe and healthy during coronavirus outbreak

Street Roots is trying to make sure homeless people are safe, healthy and informed.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Street Roots newspaper vendors are taking to Portland's streets to do a different kind of outreach.

With the novel coronavirus in our community, Street Roots is trying to make sure homeless people are safe, healthy and informed.

A KGW crew tagged along with a couple Street Roots newspaper vendors, who live in tents themselves, as they made their way through downtown Portland on Thursday. Street Roots will be doing this on the west and east sides of town daily for the foreseeable future.

They passed out information cards and hygiene products such as hand sanitizer, tissues and nail clippers to people in the houseless community, trying to protect them as the coronavirus spreads.

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“We [are] with Street Roots, man, so [we're] out here just trying to make sure everybody stays safe. We got little health kits, got some ibuprofen in there, some tissues, some hand sanitizer, little nail clippers,” Street Roots vendor Raven Drake said as she passed out a kit. “We got a resource guide with all the resources in the county.”

With her medical background, Drake didn't hesitate to spring into action to reach other people living on Portland's streets or in camps. 

Raven and other vendors who are now part of the Street Roots coronavirus action team typically get briefed at 8 a.m. They then hold a quick training for vendors at Street Roots' office to share the latest information from health authorities about coronavirus. 

The team works in coordination with the Multnomah County Health Department and the Joint Office of Homeless Services, who are adapting recommendations and guidelines for the houseless community. Then, they hit the streets.

“It's just getting out here, talking to the people who are out here just like we are,” Raven said. “Just get the right information out to people, give them what little bit we can give them - resource guides, basic things to help them stay clean, stay healthy. And just sort of give them that comfort and let them know they're not in this alone.”

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Vendors doing this outreach get paid the way they do selling Street Roots newspapers. Organizers require vendors to tally how many people they came in contact with during outreach and mark the region they went to.

“A few of the people that I know that [are] struggling out there, that are un-housed human beings, they were so relieved to get this [bag],” vendor Annette "Nettie” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of fear and panic and also a lot of people feeling like it is over-publicized too much. They’re not sure what it is, what’s the cure. They just want to be safe. They’re just overwhelmed with information right now. That’s what I’ve picked up.”

On the heels of Gov. Kate Brown's ban on crowds of more than 250 people, Drake says some people in the homeless community are panicking about where they'll get their next meal.

“Does that mean they’re going to stop feeding us, because some of those can get quite large? No, those will probably all keep going because they don’t have 250 people in there at a time,” Drake said.

RELATED: Multnomah County asking homeless shelters to identify sick to help stop the spread of COVID-19

To help calm any fears, vendors are passing out cards with facts from Multnomah County about COVID-19 such as symptoms to look for, how the virus spreads, how they can avoid catching it and when they should go to the hospital. 

Drake's advice: go to the hospital or seek medical care when you feel sick and would normally go to the hospital. You can't simply ask to be tested for coronavirus.

“Misinformation just panics people. I've calmed down a lot of people by just giving them the correct information,” Drake added.

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