This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Kay Adams is a cheerful 69-year-old woman whose neatly trimmed haircut, clean appearance and upbeat demeanor belie her history of struggles on the streets as a homeless person and the deadly disease she says she contracted at The Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City.
Adams now resides at the Avalon Valley Rehabilitation Center in South Salt Lake. She has her own room, a wheelchair and frequent gifts of cigarettes from the Salt Lake City police officers she befriended in the downtown area where the homeless gather.
She stayed at The Road Home for several months until June 7, when she collapsed at the shelter and was rushed to LDS Hospital. She was diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a flesh-eating bacteria impervious to antibiotics such as penicillin and methicillin.
It is highly contagious and its spread is best combated by constant washing and a clean environment an atmosphere "Miss Kay," as the cops call her, says is lacking at the shelter.
"The staff is good. They try their best," she says. "But when you get that many people confined to a place, it's hard to control."
Because of the disease, Adams had much of her colon removed and basically has no bowel system. When she arrived at the hospital, she gave the name of a police officer as her point of contact. The cops who visited her were told at the time she had only a few days to live.
The problem at the shelter, she says, is that despite the staff's efforts, drugs frequently are smuggled in either by ingestion of drug-filled balloons to be retrieved later when passed through the digestive system or by cramming the balloons into body orifices.
An Adams friend, who remains at the shelter and doesn't want to be identified for fear of retribution, says conditions are "horrible."
She says bloody tampons and dirty needles often are left on the floor. "People smuggle drugs in there and shoot up," she says. "You see blood left over from the injections all the time."
She says she saw blood on a Coke can Adams had left on her bed shortly before her friend became ill.
"There are women [with MRSA] at the shelter right now," the friend says. "They brag about getting other people sick."
She says a mentally ill woman recently defecated in her hands then rubbed the feces all over the walls in the shelter bathroom.
"The day staff wouldn't clean it up," she says. "So nobody could use the bathroom until the night staff came and finally cleaned it."
Melanie Zamora, director of housing programs at The Road Home, says there may be some problems at the shelter because of the large number of people there every night. But she says staffers do a good job of protecting the people there.
Zamora says she doesn't know of any current cases of MRSA at the shelter, "but it's possible. Many women there come in during crisis situations and don't stay long. So we don't know them."
She says the shelter takes health issues seriously and partners with the Fourth Street Clinic, a medical facility for the homeless.
Zamora disputes the assertion that feces remained on the bathroom walls for any length of time.
"Our staff is trained [to deal with such issues]. That would have been cleaned up right away," she says. "Remember more than 800 people choose to stay there every night."
She says the shelter has a good relationship with the police and that officers can enter when there is a problem that requires their presence.
The Road Home also contracts with a private security firm, which, beginning this week, is increasing its presence there.
"We now will have security there 24-7," Zamora says.