A man diagnosed with scabies and living in a tent on the campus of Grace Marketplace is causing concern.
Residents are worried about transmission, and administrators are wondering about the facility’s preparedness for disease control.
Grace Marketplace, an emergency homeless shelter off Waldo Road near the Gainesville airport, officially opened its dorms on Oct. 1. There is no medical clinic on the campus. To receive a diagnosis and medical care, residents must visit one of Gainesville’s clinics or the Alachua County Health Department.
The man infected with the highly contagious skin disease came to the site already infected, said Theresa Lowe, executive director for the North Florida Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry.
Lowe said many of the people who use the services provided by Grace Marketplace do not qualify for Medicaid, have no private insurance or are not old enough for Medicare.
The shelter plans on converting an old building into a health care center, but costly repairs to bring it up to code for a medical facility could take up to one year.
With winter approaching, the possibility of an airborne disease outbreak, such as the flu, is a concern for staff at the facility.
Scabies is only spread through skin-to-skin contact, making containment of the disease fairly simple.
“It’s not some deadly, highly-contagious disease,” Lowe said.
The flu virus, however, can spread rapidly through close quarters, such as meals and communal living in the shelter.
“That would be a lot more devastating,” Lowe said.
She beleives if five people contracted the flu in one week, it could progress to over 50 by the next.
Grace Marketplace is looking to provide FluMist as part of its homeless services. Lowe stressed the shelter is not a medical facility and is met with the challenges of convincing people to get vaccinated.
Brandi West, a client advocate at the shelter, said misinformation and rumors cause anxiety among residents. She personally brought in information about scabies, common colds and the flu to educate those who had doubts about transmission and treatment of the diseases.
“We disinfect anything and everything,” she said.
West said the shelter is trying to build up more advanced infrastructure to handle the potential of more disease outbreaks. They are trying to get medical gloves and masks, among other necessities. However, she said they are trying to meet the imperative needs of clothing and personal hygiene products first.
Brice Kinney, 48, stays in a tent in Dignity Village. He said he is concerned for his health in the shelter.
“Any medical help I can get, I will take,” he said.