This hand washing station is outside the front door of the Petersburg Post Office. It’s one of several maintained in the community by volunteers. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Hand washing stations have been installed in public locations around Petersburg. The stations are an effort by local volunteers and organizations to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Especially, they want to help people who no longer have access to clean water. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Federal and state health officials recommend frequent hand washing as a way to prevent the coronavirus. That may sound pretty straight forward to most people but for some it’s a lot more complicated.  

“For people experiencing homelessness right now, it adds a whole other level to the pandemic. They’re a really vulnerable population,” said Ashley Kawashima, a Behavioral Health Clinician at Petersburg Mental Health Services.

Kawashima says some people use public places to help stay clean, like the public library, Parks and Rec community center, the Harbor Bar, and the laundromat. Now, most public places are closed and their bathrooms are no longer available for people to wash their hands or bath.

“Our homeless populations really relied heavily on those resources,” she said.

And the number of homeless in Petersburg has grown. Kawashima says some people aren’t able to bounce from one couch to the next anymore.

“With the loss of jobs and kind of the fear of people being in the household that aren’t maybe a part of the main household, people are being displaces from where they were couch surfing and that’s resulting in them having to sleep in places not meant for habitation,” Kawashima said.

This hand washing station is outside of the main door to the Petersburg Public Library. It’s one of several maintained in the community by volunteers. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

It’s not just having a place to sleep and wash. It’s also about access to information. People who don’t have Internet, a smart phone, a TV or radio nearby may not know about the latest health recommendations, which are changing from day to day.

To address the problem, Kawashima along with community volunteer, Kris Norosz, started the hand washing stations. Norosz had design plans already, the borough’s utility department agreed to construct them, and Hammer and Wikan donated the materials. Kawashima says they are mostly made out of two by four boards and buckets.

“And then we have a foot pump that’s hooked up to it so it’s all hands free,” she said. “It’s a clean water bucket that has hoses going off into a spigot that goes to another bucket where you’re actually washing your hands. And then that water is changed out every day.”

That job is done by volunteers with Petersburg’s Rotary Club. The Chamber of Commerce has donated money to help with soap and paper towels.

So far, four hand washing stations have been installed outside near high traffic areas– at the public library, Parks and Rec, Hammer and Wikan Grocery store, and the hospital ER entrance. There are two mobile stations for places that hold free meals on certain days of the week. Kawashima says they are hoping to add more hand washing stations around town.

“Just trying to see what the usage is and what some other places might be that we hadn’t thought of that would be good spots for them,” Kawashima said.

Becky Turland is also with Petersburg Mental Health Services. She answers phone calls for the non-profit and she says, although their doors are locked, they are still serving people in all kinds of ways.

“It hasn’t slowed down any of our services,” Turland said. “If anything, we’ve picked up a little bit I would say. We’re doing a lot of emergency type services over the phone.”

She says there is also a greater need for food in the community as people are losing their jobs.

Petersburg Mental Health has been running a small food pantry, keeping boxes outside of its front door for people who need food immediately.

“We try to keep at least three or four boxes out there,” said Turland. “[And] ask people not to go digging through them, just to walk up and take a box. It’s more of the staple type of food, beans, rice, and more of the hardier food that we can leave outside.”

PMHS is planning to expand its food pantry into something larger scale with more community involvement. The organization is currently looking for a location for that program.

Petersburg Mental Health Services is located on the second floor of an apartment complex on 1st and Fram, across the street from the Petersburg Medical Center. The organization also keeps heating assistance and public assistance applications with envelopes outside for people to pick up as well.

If anyone would like to help with a community food pantry, contact Ashley Kawashima at Petersburg Mental Health Services at 772-3332.

This hand washing station is outside the front door of the Petersburg Public Library. It’s one of several maintained in the community by volunteers. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)