A few weeks ago, with the help of local nurses, Brownsville City Commissioner Ben Neece started helping out the homeless population in the downtown area by screening them for COVID-19 symptoms, as well as providing them with bags of groceries and toiletries.

Neece said homeless people in the downtown area were asked the usual screening questions for the coronavirus, such as if they have any symptoms of coughing, and also had their temperature checked. He said he hopes to continue the screening in upcoming weeks and expressed gratitude to nurses Maria Zonneveld, Bill Braaten, Julie Bannert and Adam Neece, who have helped him made this possible by volunteering.

“We didn’t have anybody come out (showing COVID-19 symptoms) not even with a fever, and so the Ozanam Center, which I am the chairman, sponsored some bags of food and hygienic products, some towels, some water and some soap and stuff like that,” he said. “We had them lined up and we said ‘here’s your bag, but first let us ask you some questions and let us check your temperature with the thermometer in your forehead’ and everybody was pretty cooperative.”

Neece said he would like to have a third screening event soon but it all depends if he gets nurses to volunteer. He added that nobody from the homeless population has shown any symptoms for COVID-19. He said in addition to the prescreening, they are creating a “mini medical history database” where the information from each patient is saved along with any history of mental issues.

“We had about 20 people the first time and the second time we had maybe 10 to 15 people and what we did is we created a little sheet that has biographical data: the name, age, date of birth and what their temperature was and a little history about if they had mental issues or not and other physical and medical issues,” he said during an interview on Thursday.

“It’s at least something, we have our own little data base, you might say, and I’m going to try to organize another one for Saturday but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to go through with it. It’s just something to be able to keep track of them and by the second time they were wearing masks and they seem to be cooperative overall.”

Neece said a lot of the people that are on the street suffer from mental illness and that’s one of the core issues that needs to be resolved. He added it is important to help them because they have no resources.

“It’s important because they’re on the street and they’re located in a high-traffic area. For example, they’re right there by the bus station, so, if we don’t do something to monitor them, then they could spread the disease very easily because there’s nobody monitoring them and there’s nobody giving them assistance,” he said. “For the protection of everyone, we need to help protect them as well.”

Commissioner Nurith Galonsky echoed the sentiment, She said the homeless are a segment of the Brownsville population and elected officials are responsible for taking care of all populations. She said she will be happy to participate with Neece to help them as much as they can and added the city needs to provide more housing for the homeless.

“I think it’s incumbent on the City of Brownsville to do for the homeless population because the federal government will reimburse us,” she said.

If you are a healthcare worker and would like to volunteer, email Commissioner Neece at ben@cob.us.