As the coronavirus pandemic began to take shape, another epidemic came to light, homelessness. Even before the pandemic, homelessness was on the rise across the country. As of January 2019, 568,000 people were experiencing homelessness, an increase of nearly 15,000 from 2018. This number has obviously continued to increase for numerous reasons. In March and April alone, 22.2 million workers were furloughed and not receiving a paycheck. Countless American families were forced out of their homes that once were never a struggle to afford. During a time when stay-at-home orders were in full effect, many had nowhere to call home. The system that administers relief for these individuals became overwhelmed and did not have the proper resources and funds to provide for them. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is an increasing number of homeless people in need of support; however, the lack of resources and volunteers to provide for them creates a continuous cycle that those being affected are unable to escape from.
The coronavirus pandemic has placed emphasis on the connection between housing and public health. As more and more people are staying in homeless shelters, they have become a petri dish for the coronavirus to spread. For example, “Early in the pandemic, communities saw a rapid spread in homeless shelters, particularly in congregate settings, where people shared living and sleeping spaces, sometimes in beds, cots, or bunks that were very close to one another” (Batko). The close proximity of residents has made social distancing nearly impossible. Along with the spread in shelters, residents often do not have the proper protection to prevent it. As a result of the spread, homeless shelters have been forced to create new solutions to protect their residents. Yurcaba states, “In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, many cities have temporarily housed people experiencing homelessness in hotels for the first time ever.” This option is very costly for shelters, especially since the majority of them operate on donations and grants from generous donors. However, this system proved effective in preventing the spread within shelters as those with positive test results or experiencing symptoms were able to be isolated from others. Efforts to secure hotel rooms were necessary, but did not meet the needs of all people experiencing homelessness and have not effectively provided for the loss of congregate shelter capacity. Additionally, in the winter months, shelters typically increase their capacity and resources for the homeless population. However, “Some [shelters] closed to implement public health strategies, and others closed because of diminished staff and volunteers” (Batko). With new health guidelines and capacity limits, it makes it nearly impossible for shelters to provide for all of those in need. Volunteers are apprehensive to work in the shelters because of potential exposure to the virus. Experts and activists are working to ensure that these shelter options remain open for the homeless; however, as negotiations continue for different forms of relief aid, communities must prepare for a potential increase of people who have nowhere to go.
Batko, Samatha. “Winter Is Here. With COVID-19 Limiting Shelter Capacity, What Will It Mean for People Experiencing Homelessness?” Urban Institute, 18 December 2020, www.urban.org/urban-wire/winter-here-covid-19-limiting-shelter-capacity-what-will-it-mean-people-experiencing-homelessness. Accessed 12 February 2021.
Yurcaba, Jo. “Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic: What to Know.” VerywellMind, 13 November 2020, www.very well mind.com/homelessness-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-5087059. Accessed 12 February 2021.