Metropolitan Ministries Outreach Centers Gifted Zika Kits to the Homeless in Tampa

people-878512_960_720Metropolitan Ministries Outreach Centers, a Tampa Charity, has consigned Zika kits to homeless community members in Holiday and Tampa, Florida.

With more than 200 documented cases of Zika, a disease that spreads through mosquito bites, in Florida, a local charity saw that hundreds of families living in their cars, tents and in the woods received kits to protect them from multiple mosquito-borne diseases, including Zika.  Metropolitan Ministries began their efforts by giving out approximately 150 Zika-prevention kits to homeless individuals, who live without proper window screens or air conditioning.

According to Metropolitan Ministries’ Shawn LaFata, the homeless community is particularly  vulnerable during the summer months, that’s in addition to facing environmental conditions, such as rain and heat. The “Zika Virus Kits,” which is equipped with mosquito netting, mosquito spray, and water treatment tablets to place in standing water, will help to protect the homeless. Also, homeless individuals can seek out the group’s outreach centers to have  their personal items and clothes sprayed for protection.

“Hundreds of homeless families across Tampa Bay are living in their cars, tents and in the woods in this extreme summer heat,” a Metropolitan Ministries blog states. “The Zika virus is a new threat to the area. For little children, and expectant mothers, these conditions are dangerous. It’s not uncommon for us to see homeless children and parents covered in bug bites.”

Late June, Gov. Rick Scott authorized the $26.2 million on the purchase of Zika prevention kits and killing mosquitos. Additionally, the Florida Department of Health will send money to counties and districts ridden with mosquitos.

The Zika virus transmission cycle begins with symptoms,  such as rash, fever, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), and it spreads when a person infected with the virus due to maternal transmission from mother to baby in the womb,  unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sexual intercourse, or when an Aedes mosquito bites an infected person and then an that mosquito bites another person. Also, Zika can be transmitted through blood transfusion, and through the exchange of bodily fluids, including urine and saliva.  With that said Dr. Satish Pillai, the CDC’s incidence manager for the case, has told reporters, “We don’t have evidence that Zika can be passed from one person to another by sneezing, coughing, by hugging or kissing.”

Presently, the Zika virus is still extremely rare in the U.S., with there being fewer than 1,000 cases diagnosed nationwide. However, the short-term disease is serious, and it can trigger paralysis (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) and subsequent birth defects in some women. Despite a Utah case where a patient died from the Zika virus, it’s not normally deadly and not necessarily dangerous to anyone beyond developing fetuses. The worst that normally happens are muscle aches, fevers, and rashes.

With the second highest rate of Zika viruses in the nation (approximately 162 cases as of June 22), Florida-dwelling individuals living in poverty are particularly vulnerable. According to the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, the Tampa area has more than 1,800 homeless individuals. Also, statewide, the figure rises to 35,964 homeless people.

Visit CDC to learn more about the Zika virus and visit the Metropolitan Ministries website to learn more about the work they do to house and help the community of Tampa. To help protect more homeless families from Zika, you can donate a kit here.

Housing Florida’s Homeless

Stephen Overton housingOn any given night in January of 2014, there were approximately 578,424 individuals experiencing homelessness. This means these people were either sleeping in the streets, spending the night at an emergency shelter, or in a transitional housing program. It’s clear that homelessness is an issue, and Ability Housing, a nonprofit based out of Jacksonville, is leading the charge to improve life for the homeless.

Founded in 1992, Ability Housing was originally a group home for individuals living with development disabilities. Today it is a nonprofit with a focus on the development and operation of quality affordable rental housing for people, and families experiencing (or at risk for) homelessness, and adults with disabilities. Ability Housing’s mission is to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods affected by damaging rental properties; improve the quality of life of the residents, neighborhood and larger community; preserve the existing affordable housing; improve neighborhood real estate values; provide housing to local vulnerable households; and provide a permanent solution to the local homelessness crisis. All of Ability Housing’s residents earn 80% or less than the area median income, and are therefore low-income. In fact, most of them earn less than 50%, and some, those who are extremely low-income, earn 30% less than the area median income.

At the end of 2015, Ability Housing was awarded a $150,000 grant to continue their cause. This gift from the Florida Blue Foundation will allow them to conduct research about the return on investment of providing the homeless with stable homes. Ability Housing’s Executive Director, Shannon Nazworth said the state is spending more on the homeless in the form of emergency stays and prison stays than they would if they homeless had stable homes. These expenditures are also counterproductive, because they don’t contribute to the stabilization of the individual. There is no Florida-specific data to prove this, so Ability Housing has launched “The Solution that Saves.” This three-year pilot study will gather data demonstrating that the return on investment is greater when a homeless individual is provided a stable home. Multiple state agencies are involved in the program, including Florida’s Department of Health, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ability Housing’s own tenants are volunteering in the study, some of which are living in the nonprofit’s newest apartment complex. I commend Ability Housing for taking the initiative to create solutions for a larger problem. Creating more opportunities for the homeless will only lead to more advancements for the larger Florida community.