Urton: If ever there was a time to think globally and act locally, it is now
Tripper, a man living at the "Jurassic Park" homeless encampment in San Jose, is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

This week Apple announced it is donating 9 million protective masks to the US COVID-19 relief efforts. Facebook offered 720,000 masks and Tesla another 250,000.  A March 25 headline read, “This weekend saw a flurry in Silicon Valley CEOs promising heir companies would donate masks to health care workers.”

This is wonderful news; we applaud these efforts as they address the vulnerability of first responders in hospitals across the nation.

Yet there is another critical need – right here in Silicon Valley. Some of the most vulnerable among us are those who are homeless. We run the largest homeless emergency shelters in our county with operations now running 24-hours a day/7 days-a-week from Gilroy to Mountain View with beds for over 500 individuals (infants to senior citizens) each night.

Our staff, like hospital health care workers, have risen to the occasion working long hours, often redeployed to new sites as the need arises. They are without adequate protection. Our staff and our clients need your help. We need 100,000 N95 respirators (masks) now for the next few weeks. We are absolutely thrilled that our local tech giants are doing so much and that tireless health care workers will receive these masks across the country. We need them as well.

We are inviting people to sew homemade masks, a short term compromise, but as the CDC warns, “Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.” We do not have face shields or masks/respirators.

While direct dollar donations are still essential for supplies and meals, we really need these masks/respirators now. They are critical to maintaining the health of those who serve and those we serve.

Andrea Urton is the CEO of HomeFirst, a nonprofit organization that provides services, shelter and housing opportunities to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness in Santa Clara County.

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