Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Formerly Homeless Atlanta Resident Staves Off Coronavirus With Portable Sinks

Portable sinks have been placed throughout Atlanta so that homeless people could wash their hands. (Courtesy)
Portable sinks have been placed throughout Atlanta so that homeless people could wash their hands. (Courtesy)

Terence Lester decided to place portable sinks throughout Atlanta, so the city’s homeless population could wash their hands.

As a teenager, Lester lived for a while on the streets until a friend’s father offered to help. He later founded Love Beyond Walls, a nonprofit dedicated to serving the homeless. The organization has delivered portable handwashing stations around the city with the help of volunteers like Grammy-winning gospel artist Lecrae.

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, many businesses and public spaces homeless people rely on are closed — such as libraries, communities of faith and restaurants. In response to these closures, homeless individuals expressed concerns that they would contract the coronavirus because they didn’t have anywhere to wash their hands, Lester says.

These portable sinks are often used by people traveling in an RV or going camping. Years ago, Love Beyond Walls started using RVs as temporary housing to help people transition out of homelessness.

“The idea just came about,” he says. “Why don’t we repurpose this and literally use this for a community of people who are always outside and without shelter?”

To use the sink, pump the foot pedal and water travels up the nozzle to the tiny faucet. There’s also a soap dispenser and a drain that lets the dirty water run away from the person using the sink, he says.

“There’s public health research right now that suggests that if we’re asking the community to wash your hands, protect against the spread and contraction of the coronavirus,” he says, “then we also need to provide tools for the parts of the community to perform those behaviors if they are experiencing homelessness.”

The portable sinks hold from five to 10 gallons of water. Volunteers change the water, replenish the soap and sanitize the stations a few times daily, he says.

People have expressed gratitude for the portable sinks and the ability to wash their hands before eating in particular, Lester says.

“I think this moment is showing us that we need to be about the entire community, the whole community, even those who are houseless,” he says.

Love Beyond Walls hopes to extend this initiative to other American cities that have shown an interest in placing portable sinks to help the homeless wash their hands.

“For me, in the ways of Jesus … I just want to show that compassion to my neighbor,” he says.

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’DowdAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.