What do you do during a stay-at-home order if you don’t have a home to go to? The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many weaknesses in the United States, including the issue of homelessness throughout the country. With unemployment rates sky high due to furloughs and business closures there is additional pressure on an already failing system.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, 2019 was the third straight year that the USA had seen an increase among homeless individuals. Seventeen out of every 10,000 people in the USA experienced homelessness in 2019 (567,715 people). Many of these people, approximately 34 percent, are unsheltered, meaning they sleep in places that are not meant for human habitation.
Homeless individuals are among the highest risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19. Many people who experience homelessness are older adults and many of them have underlying medical conditions. While those 65-and-older are at the highest risk of COVID-19 in the general population, research shows that people who experience homelessness age faster than those who do not by as many as 20 years. Those with pre-existing conditions are also among the highest risk of COVID-19. In a study done among unsheltered homeless individuals in 2019 showed that 84 percent self-reported a pre-existing medical condition. In contrast, only 19 percent of sheltered homeless individuals reported pre-existing medical conditions.
Following the CDC recommendations while homeless is a near-to-impossible task. Congregate settings are prevalent among both unsheltered and sheltered individuals as well as lack of access to knowledge of updated health recommendations. Shelters across the country have been forced to limit the number of beds they can provide due to social distancing requirements. In some states, temporary solutions such as “field shelters” have been erected to attempt to house as many people as possible. However, many of these shelters still house and operate with many more people within their walls than the CDC recommended limits.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the number one way to resolve the health concerns regarding the homeless is housing. The problem is that the cost of housing throughout the country has been increasing rapidly over the past seven years. Currently, no state has an adequate number of affordable housing for the lowest income renters. Eight million low income households pay at least half of their income towards housing. While there are programs available to help low income individuals get safe affordable housing, only one in four households are eligible for assistance due to lack of funding.
COVID-19 is likely to contribute to a rise in homelessness in an already pressured system. Unemployment rates throughout the country have skyrocketed, and predictions for homelessness estimate an additional 250,000 people could be added to the population.
PETITION your lawmakers
Start in your community. Talk to the homeless, research the organizations contributing the most to your local homeless population. Donate clothing, blankets, or food that you don’t need. Ask what your local shelter needs. Encourage other friends who may be selling things they don’t need to donate instead. Research businesses in your area that hire the homeless. If you own a business, consider hiring the homeless yourself.