A Phoenix Nonprofit Opens Up A Hotel To Homeless Coronavirus Patients

Jul 11, 2020
Originally published on July 12, 2020 12:51 pm

Thomas Salts spent two weeks in a hotel in Arizona sleeping, watching TV and, most importantly, fighting COVID-19.

"I mean it was truly one of the worst bouts I'd ever had dealing with any kind of thing, with the flu or anything," Salts told NPR's Weekend Edition. "It was 10 times worse."

Circle the City, a Phoenix-based nonprofit, is helping Salts and other people without homes gain access to health care. Since May, the group has been housing and treating people with COVID-19 symptoms in the Phoenix Inn hotel in downtown Phoenix.

"I can tell you the hotel was just a hotel, but the people in it made it special," Salts said. "These people would come morning, noon, night and check on me. Take my temperature. Check my vitals. The doctor would be there with his stethoscope, checking my lungs, making sure I don't have to go to the hospital for a ventilator."

The spread of COVID-19 is particularly detrimental for people without homes because they often lack access to basic sanitation, health care and the ability to isolate and quarantine if they do get sick. In response, cities with large populations of people experiencing homelessness, including New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Francisco, have begun using vacant hotel rooms to provide care to some of the city's most vulnerable.

"I was completely by myself," Salts said. "So while I was in the room, a lot of times what I did is just watch the TV and lay in bed because I was so sick. But it wasn't like I was quarantined and isolated because they checked on me all the time. I mean, they were either at my door or on the phone, checking on me, seeing how I was feeling. I mean they were just, just really really nice."

Salts said he received three meals a day — provided by the nonprofit Community Bridges Inc., according to CNN — and extra snacks and drinks if he needed them.

"They allowed me to even order some food out. And so I did from the grocery store. And they kept it in their own personal refrigerator — my eggs and bacon and stuff like that — and they cooked my bacon for me. They did," Salts said. "This is amazing, that's what I mean, they're really amazing people. And they did above and beyond what any kind of role, like just a worker doing a job would be doing. These people are genuine."

This comes at a time in which Arizona — like much of the United States — is facing a rise in coronavirus cases. The state reported an average of 3,574 new cases every day this week and more than 65% of the state's cases are in Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix and the surrounding area.

For now, Salts is recovering back in a shelter awaiting his birthday. He's hoping to raise some money online to buy a car after his last one was totaled on the same day that he lost his job.

"I'm really happy to be alive," he said. "My birthday is coming up and I might not have been here so I'm really, really happy for anything, everything, I have. So I'll just start looking for work again and, eventually, I'll find something."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Arizona, like much of the U.S., is seeing a rise in coronavirus. The state reported an average of 3,600 new cases every day this week. Some of those cases were among homeless people, who often lack access to basic sanitation, cleaning supplies and health care. Circle the City is a charity in Phoenix that provides health care to the homeless. And since May, it has been housing and treating homeless people in a hotel in downtown Phoenix. Thomas Salts was one of the residents. He tested positive for COVID back in June and spent nearly two weeks in the hotel. He joins us now from Phoenix. Mr. Salts, thanks so much for being with us.

THOMAS SALTS: Thank you.

SIMON: And how are you feeling now, may we ask?

SALTS: Today, I'm feeling good - way better, completely.

SIMON: What can you tell us about that hotel? What was it like to stay there?

SALTS: Well, I can tell you the hotel was just a hotel, but the people in it made it special. These people would come morning, noon, night, you know, and check on me, take my temperature, you know, check my vitals. The doctor would be there with a stethoscope checking my lungs, making sure that, you know, I didn't need to go to the hospital for a ventilator. And, I mean, it was truly one of the worst - worst bouts I'd ever had dealing with any kind of thing - with the flu or anything, it was 10 times worse.

SIMON: Of course, at the same time, you had to stay apart from everybody, right?

SALTS: Oh, yeah. I was completely by myself. And, you know, so while I was in the room, you know, a lot of times what I did is, you know, just watched the TV and laid on the bed 'cause I was so sick. You know, but it wasn't like I was quarantined and isolated because they checked on me all the time. I mean, they were either at my door or on the phone, checking to, you know, see how I'm feeling. I mean, they were just - I mean, just really, really nice, you know? And they did bring me cough syrup, cough drops, you know, things like that, other medicines - and just really, really nice.

SIMON: So you got medical care.

SALTS: With no insurance - zero insurance. They didn't ask me for one dollar and treated me just like a regular, decent person - I mean, really amazing.

SIMON: What was the food like - right? - 'cause you couldn't go down to a restaurant, yeah?

SALTS: They'd come around in the morning. You know, they'd give you breakfast. They'd give you lunch, and then they give you dinner. And, of course, throughout the day, if you wanted anything else - you know, Gatorades or stuff like that - they'd bring that to you. Throughout my needs, though - I'm a very picky eater, too. You know, I don't like mayonnaise and stuff like that. So when they had salads and stuff like that, they allowed me to even order some food out, and, you know, so I did from the grocery store. And they kept it in their own personal refrigerator - my eggs and bacon, stuff like that.

SIMON: Yeah.

SALTS: And they cooked my bacon for me (laughter). They did. I...

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

SALTS: This is amazing. That's what I mean. They're really amazing people. And they did above and beyond what, you know, any kind of real, like, just a worker, you know, doing a job would be doing. These people were genuine.

SIMON: Well, where are you now, Mr. Salts?

SALTS: I'm back in the shelter right now. I'm still having a little tough bout with the unemployment. As - you know, while all of this has happened, I was trying to do my best to, you know, to find a job. Of course, I got hired for one, and so I got quarantined (laughter), so I couldn't have the start date.

SIMON: Oh, my.

SALTS: Yeah, and they moved it. They, you know, agreed to move the start date, you know, to July 2 so I would be out of the quarantine. But they sent me a termination letter in the meantime. And so it kind of - you know, it kind of bummed me out, but I'm really happy to be alive, though, you know? Right now, my birthday's coming up, and, you know, I might've not been here, so I'm very, very happy for anything and everything I have, you know? So I'll just start looking for, you know, work again, and eventually I'll find something.

SIMON: Mr. Salts, you were walking around the streets of Phoenix, which is in always a hot spot, between weather and the coronavirus at the moment. What can people do to help people who are in your situation?

SALTS: Well, the cooling stations are good. I got to say that's the first step right there because, like, right now, it's going to be 117 on Sunday, and I've got no car. I got...

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

SALTS: Yeah, and I've only got, you know, a handful of dollars. So, you know, trying to get inside to buy a soda or something anywhere that you can...

SIMON: Yeah.

SALTS: ...Is important, but other people don't even have that, you know? It is really tough. I think restrooms would probably be - as far as for the homeless population, that is really the biggest problem that I see. Right now, it's like I only have a few places that I know that I can go. And, you know, I'm out here. You can't just go into a strange business and say, hey, can I use your bathroom?

SIMON: Yeah.

SALTS: Of course, in the middle of this, they're not going to let you in anyway. So if the city, you know, you might - the city might think about that, putting, like, you know, some port-a-potties or something like that throughout different areas, so not just one place at the shelter 'cause otherwise, it's a long ways back there, you know, that would - I think would be the biggest - right now - thing that anybody, you know, government could do is to think about just a basic human need and to keep people clean, you know? That'd put us a step in the right direction. Think about others.

SIMON: Thomas Salts, who is about to have a birthday and has recovered from COVID. Mr. Salts, thank you so much for being with us, sir.

SALTS: Thank you, Scott. Thank you very much.

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