Lovey faces a dilemma. If she finds hand sanitiser, she can either use it to clean her hands, or she can drip it in a can of fibres to light a fire for a night’s worth of warmth in her tent that sits next to a highway in Seattle, Washington.
“You get pneumonia just by living in these tents,” said 53-year-old Lovey, who preferred not to use her real name.
Temperatures often drop close to freezing during the winter in a city also known for frequent rains. Lovey had pneumonia a few years ago, and she is coughing up green phlegm from a sinus infection now.
Nearly two weeks ago, the hospital towering over her encampment was the site of the US’s first death from the novel coronavirus that has taken almost 4,000 lives worldwide.
The Seattle area has the country’s third largest concentration of citizens like Lovey, experiencing homelessness, and the city has become the centre of the US’s battle against the spread of the novel coronavirus that has already led to at least 27 deaths, 22 of them in Washington state.
“It’s really clear we’ve been in a public health crisis,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director at the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness.