In these tough times, we should educate others and ourselves about unhoused individuals that don’t have the same access to resources that we do and lend a helping hand. Much like everything else these days, this article will touch (sorry, no touching allowed–whoops) on the Coronavirus outbreak. Instead of falling down the internet rabbit hole about the pandemic, I want to focus on something that I quite frankly don’t hear much about on TV or in the news: the homeless and COVID-19.
During my time at home, I endlessly complain about everything. Whether it’s fighting with my brother about the remote, learning to study in my bedroom, missing out on college experiences, or having to social distance from my fridge because of my extreme ice-cream consumption, these “problems” are all trivial compared to what others are facing outside. I realized the other day that I have the privilege of being indoors with more than enough food and safe sanitation and hygiene practices. I am quite lucky but unfortunately, I can’t say the same for so many individuals in our country.
According to the State of Homelessness’s 2019 report, around half a million Americans are homeless on any given night and approximately 35% do not have shelter and sleep in places described by the government as not intended for human habitation. Additionally, around 350,000 individuals who don’t rough sleep live in emergency shelters and traditional housing programs. If they make up a large part of our population, imagine how many are affected by the pandemic. Individuals who experience unsheltered homelessness, which is defined as people sleeping outside or in places not suitable for humans, might be at high risk for infection when there is community spread of Coronavirus. Similarly, in times like this, the lack of housing contributes to poor health outcomes and finding permanent housing should be a priority. There are different risks compared to sleeping outdoors versus staying inside in emergency shelters. In a way, being outside allows people to increase the distance between themselves and others. However, sleeping outside doesn’t provide protection from the environment, fast access to hygiene or sanitation, and connection to reliable healthcare.
Currently, homeless service providers and community leaders are working with state leaders to protect the health of this highly vulnerable population during this time. Measures should be collectively made using the input of healthcare, behavioral health services, food pantries, and homeless shelters. However, I am happy to hear that a lot is being done in the nation to help combat this issue. For example, Californian governor, Gavin Newsom, created a goal of providing 51,000 hotel rooms across the state for the homeless according to a report in the Bloomberg. Additionally, various cities are implementing plans and protocols to help social distancing in emergency shelters. In Seattle, the city’s Mayor, Jenny Durkan, will be opening emergency quarantine and isolation sites to provide accommodation for unhoused individuals in tiny house villages. Across the globe, the city of Paris has opened up self-isolation centers with numerous beds for homeless who tested positive for COVID-19 but don’t need hospitalization.
Unfortunately, a lot of the decisions regarding community policy and betterment for unhoused individuals come from the government (both state and local) and public health officials. However individually, we can help with donations for this vulnerable population. We can donate a variety of items to shelters in our local cities such as:
– Cleaning supplies (large and small garbage bags) and other waste disposal supplies
– Thermometers and their covers
– Medications used to bring fevers down
– Bags including resealable zip-top plastic bags
– Disinfectants such as bleach, Lysol or other common household disinfectants
– Linens such as towels, blankets sheets, and robes
– Dividers which can be sheets, curtains, twine, and nails to create a barrier to isolate the sick
– Extra fluids and foods including juices, Gatorade, instant soups, nonperishable food
Individually, we can all check out the web and social media pages of our local homeless shelters and see if they have a wish list for specific items for donations. Although there isn’t much I can do as a twenty-year-old undergrad, I hope to have educated you all about this vulnerable population during this time, and how we should all as a community do everything, we can to help them. Every little bit counts, so please educate others and lend a helping hand to a local emergency shelter by donating!
For more information on COVID-19 and Homelessness refer to: