Over half a million Americans go homeless on a single night in the United States. Of those, around 350,000 use shelters and transitional housing while the remainder “rough sleep”, a term for making a bed in an abandoned home, vehicle, or quiet public area.
In addition, they have much higher rates of serious underlying health conditions, often lack access to quality health care, and have no avenue to self-quarantine.
Amidst COVID-19 lockdowns, increased demands for beds are pushing our shelters to the brink, as they are on the frontline, battling both the pandemic and the challenges of one of our most vulnerable populations. So, what can we do to help?
Raise COVID-19 Awareness
The CDC encourages community volunteers that work with homeless shelters to coordinate a plan to educate their local homeless population. Take safety measures by wearing face masks and staying at least six feet apart during all encampment visits. Encourage the residents at encampments to create space between their tents and other shelters. Bring sanitizing wipes, masks, and hand cleaner to the residents. Attempt to receive municipal approval to supply the encampments with hand-washing stations and portable bathrooms.
Make a Donation
Homeless shelters must now compete with an endless array of other groups that need funding for necessities for the recently unemployed and at-risk. Hence, find a local homeless shelter and offer a monetary donation or volunteer at places that practice safe social distancing. Collect backpacks and fill them with essential items — basics like socks, grocery store gift cards, and personal hygiene items. Add to the gift bags some COVID-19 necessities as well, like disposable face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer. Finally, during our “stay-at-home” order, consider starting a Facebook fundraiser for a shelter near you.
All efforts to help the homeless can save lives, reduce the spread of the virus through the community, and increase the spread of hope. So, donate and volunteer whenever possible to improve the conditions for those who have no safe place to take shelter.