Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Stress for Homeless Shelters
Updated: 6 days ago
Author: Jasmine Wilson
COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has become one of the most prolific communicable diseases in modern history. With over 300,000 cases in the U.S. and more than a million worldwide, the illness has led to an onslaught of caution and mass hysteria.
Now declared a pandemic by the WHO, COVID-19 is spread through airborne particles. In fact, molecules can remain in the air for up to three hours, waiting for an unsuspecting person to breathe them in.
Many governments have ordered citizens to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, homeless individuals often have nowhere to isolate themselves.
As reported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HUD Exchange, this demographic is always at higher risk of communicable illness. Without proper housing, individuals are constantly exposed to the elements and have fewer opportunities for hygiene, increasing their risk of infection. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the homeless population also has low access to adequate healthcare and treatment, increasing their likelihood of serious complications, such as coronavirus-induced pneumonia.
Cities across the country are trying—and often failing—to remedy issues and control risks faced by the homeless. Los Angeles temporarily converted 42 recreational centers into homeless shelters on March 20. While all the workers have been given personal protective equipment, many residents are still concerned about the safety of the situation, due to the high concentration of people.
D.C. is cutting red tape in a frantic attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Families are no longer required to present extensive documents, including ID and proof of residency, in order to enter an emergency shelter. A moratorium on evictions has also been put in place.
However, these measures may not be enough in the long run. When the pandemic begins to yield, people can still be evicted for unpaid rent, and the number of homeless citizens will likely increase due to historic unemployment. New York City and Seattle are facing similar situations.
Homeless shelters are feeling pressure as well. Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia, Maryland aids vulnerable populations year-round. The current crisis has kept the center busy: out of 110 calls received per day, around 30% are currently related to coronavirus.
According to operations manager Anna Katz, the center has “seen a significant increase in calls related to COVID-19, including mental health issues related to isolation, stress due to job loss and immediate financial needs.”
The pandemic has also made it more difficult for Grassroots to operate. Volunteers are no longer allowed to help out, so extra staff are needed to assist with mealtimes. Since it is not possible for residents to self-isolate, Grassroots must exercise extreme caution and try to keep the environment as safe as possible for everyone.
The vulnerability of the individuals in Grassroots’ care makes this situation even more detrimental. “Most of our residents have underlying health conditions and other challenges that make them especially vulnerable,” Katz said. If someone tests positive, there are “very limited supplies of personal protective equipment” to guard other individuals from contracting the illness.
The center has taken many measures to continue safe operation: entrance screenings of everyone who enters the building, prohibiting visitors and asking all individuals about recent travel and symptoms. Grassroots has limited walk-in consultations to only those who are homeless in the literal sense, and “urgent” situations such as dangerous substance abuse or severe depressive or suicidal episodes. The center’s Day Resource Center continues to provide food, water and other essential items to those still outside. “We are also checking on their safety and health regularly,” explained Katz.