Dallas Ebola Patient's Neighborhood Deals With New Stigma

Oct 7, 2014
Originally published on October 8, 2014 2:24 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We're going to go to Dallas now to the neighborhood where Thomas Eric Duncan was staying when he became ill with Ebola. Vickery Meadow is a poor area. A lot of immigrants live there. Community leaders say their residents are being stigmatized and shunned because of fears about the disease. NPR's Sam Sanders went there today.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Sally Nuran has been trying to clear up misconceptions about Ebola. She's got flyers about the disease in multiple languages.

SALLY NURAN: English, Burmese, Swahili, Hindi, Nepali, Arabic, Spanish - we are, right now, out of Russian...

SANDERS: Nuran owns and manages the Ivy Apartments in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood of Dallas. It's the complex where Thomas Eric Duncan was living when he became ill with Ebola. The complex is mostly refugees, with residents from eight nations.

Nuran says her residents are receptive to information about Ebola, but from the stories she's heard, others in Dallas are not. Many people in the Ivy Apartments say they've been shunned.

NURAN: People that are speaking English - that are going to schools and colleges and universities - they haven't had the basic information about this virus, which is sad.

SANDERS: And that lack of information and fear has hurt Vickery Meadow because the neighborhood relies a lot on support from people outside its boundaries. About half of Vickery Meadow residents live in poverty. Many are refugees. So the community needs a steady flow of support for everything from food banks to afterschool programs. Since the Ebola case was diagnosed in Dallas, those services have taken a hit.

LANITA DUNLAP: So we had, like, 50 volunteers at the beginning of this semester. We were so excited. And then we started getting the influx of E-mails basically saying, hey, my group is not going to be able to come.

SANDERS: That's Lanita Dunlap. She's the executive director of Heart House, a nonprofit that provides afterschool activities for Vickery Meadow children. She says she's lost about a quarter of her volunteers. Yesterday several community leaders in Dallas came together to address these problems. Pastor Brent Barry of the North Park Presbyterian Church was there.

BRENT BARRY: We hear stories of, like, two young people of African descent walking into a restaurant and being turned away because they look African and maybe they have an accent. And then on top of that, you know, we hear these stories of people being turned away at work.

SANDERS: Without names the stories are hard to confirm, but several leaders say they've been hearing the same thing. Since the meeting, Barry's church has organized a hotline to recruit new volunteers. Barry says the citizens of Dallas have just as much work to do around Ebola as the doctors and nurses fighting the disease.

BARRY: The scientists are doing their very best job. Let's show our very best selves - and not buying into fear, the anxiety, the rumors.

SANDERS: Barry says he'll send volunteers to Heart House as soon as he gets them. That's the nonprofit that does afterschool programming in Vickery Meadow. Leadership at Heart House says they'll welcome the help, and they'll even take back the volunteers who've been scared off in recent days. Sam Sanders, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.