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A Phoenix Nonprofit Opens Up A Hotel To Homeless Coronavirus Patients

Thomas Salts spent two weeks in a hotel in Arizona sleeping, watching TV and, most importantly, fighting COVID-19.

"I mean it was truly one of the worst bouts I'd ever had dealing with any kind of thing, with the flu or anything," Salts told NPR's Weekend Edition. "It was 10 times worse."

Circle the City, a Phoenix-based nonprofit, is helping Salts and other people without homes gain access to health care. Since May, the group has been housing and treating people with COVID-19 symptoms in the Phoenix Inn hotel in downtown Phoenix.

"I can tell you the hotel was just a hotel, but the people in it made it special," Salts said. "These people would come morning, noon, night and check on me. Take my temperature. Check my vitals. The doctor would be there with his stethoscope, checking my lungs, making sure I don't have to go to the hospital for a ventilator."

The spread of COVID-19 is particularly detrimental for people without homes because they often lack access to basic sanitation, health care and the ability to isolate and quarantine if they do get sick. In response, cities with large populations of people experiencing homelessness, including New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Francisco, have begun using vacant hotel rooms to provide care to some of the city's most vulnerable.

"I was completely by myself," Salts said. "So while I was in the room, a lot of times what I did is just watch the TV and lay in bed because I was so sick. But it wasn't like I was quarantined and isolated because they checked on me all the time. I mean, they were either at my door or on the phone, checking on me, seeing how I was feeling. I mean they were just, just really really nice."

Salts said he received three meals a day — provided by the nonprofit Community Bridges Inc., according to CNN — and extra snacks and drinks if he needed them.

"They allowed me to even order some food out. And so I did from the grocery store. And they kept it in their own personal refrigerator — my eggs and bacon and stuff like that — and they cooked my bacon for me. They did," Salts said. "This is amazing, that's what I mean, they're really amazing people. And they did above and beyond what any kind of role, like just a worker doing a job would be doing. These people are genuine."

This comes at a time in which Arizona — like much of the United States — is facing a rise in coronavirus cases. The state reported an average of 3,574 new cases every day this week and more than 65% of the state's cases are in Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix and the surrounding area.

For now, Salts is recovering back in a shelter awaiting his birthday. He's hoping to raise some money online to buy a car after his last one was totaled on the same day that he lost his job.

"I'm really happy to be alive," he said. "My birthday is coming up and I might not have been here so I'm really, really happy for anything, everything, I have. So I'll just start looking for work again and, eventually, I'll find something."

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