Anyone is susceptible to a coronavirus infection, but select demographics are particularly vulnerable: older adults, those with preexisting health conditions and health care workers.
A population that is also expected to be hit particularly hard by the virus are those experiencing homelessness. Some states with large homeless populations, like California, have allocated government funds to provide aid. Other organizations, such as the United Health Foundation, have made large donations to several cities, including $500,000 to provide urgent care to homeless individuals in New Orleans.
The Council is proud to partner with @UnitedHealthGrp to support our members working to contain the spread of #COVID19 among people experiencing #homelessness. This generous donation of $2.5 million will make a huge difference in our community! https://t.co/pWjg5Js1It
— NatlHCHCouncil (@NatlHCHCouncil) April 3, 2020
This money will likely be critical. As the economy continues to decline into a recession, many experts anticipate a rise in homelessness, making scarce resources even more vital.
Marybeth Shinn, the Cornelius Vanderbilt chair of the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University, says that people experiencing homelessness are poised to suffer the most as the pandemic rages.
Individuals experiencing homeless often have underlying or preexisting conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, and were already in vulnerable positions before the virus spread. They also lack the same health care resources as their housed counterparts.
“People who are experiencing homelessness are our most disenfranchised neighbors and fellow citizens,” she says.
For the homeless population, staying healthy during the coronavirus pandemic is challenging. Shinn notes that it is difficult to enforce social isolation in community shelters, and encampments are not equipped with proper sanitation or equipment to keep people safe. Even former outreach efforts have halted as most of the country obeys stay-at-home orders.
Despite these shortcomings, Shinn says that using funding to enhance these existing institutions is the best way to help fight virus spread among the homeless community.
“One of the things we want to do is not to break up encampments right now, but to try to make encampments safer,” she says.
This entails providing food, sanitary devices and stations, port-a-potties and shower trucks to keep homeless individuals safe.
Enabling social distancing in shelters and opening more spaces to house people experiencing homelessness is a more difficult task, but one that can be achieved with increased testing, Shinn notes.
“You want to do a lot of testing…to try to avoid spread,” Shinn says.
Shinn also recommends getting creative with housing options. She points out that many hotels and college dormitories are vacant and can be used as temporary housing.
From there, Shinn believes using funding to provide pathways to permanent housing solutions is the best way to prevent outbreaks. “This will enable social distancing for everyone,” or both housed and unhoused Americans, Shinn says.
“Temporary housing combined with priority access for housing choice vouchers and for public housing so that this temporary housing bridges to that permanent housing would be great.”
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