Arguably, no demographic has been hit harder by COVID-19 and the ensuing response to it than the homeless. Unfortunately, the struggles of the homeless are often overlooked, even in “normal” times. As the pandemic evolves and oscillates, they’ve grown even more forgotten.
Lack of Sanitation
Hygiene is a challenge for the nation’s homeless in the best of circumstances. In US cities across the country, the homeless usually find opportunities for personal hygiene in restaurant bathrooms or other commercial establishments – often their only avenue to stay clean.
Now, with the forced closure of most retail outlets, the homeless find themselves without access to important resources. And the lack of appropriate facilities only exacerbates the heightened risk of the homeless contracting COVID-19 and other diseases.
The Human Element
The homeless rely on outreach workers for help, especially those who are older or who have chronic health conditions. These workers might provide some basic hygiene products, arrange a visit to the limited public health resources available to the homeless, or deliver a hot meal. Now, many outreach workers are afraid of contracting and spreading the disease by visiting their routine clients, leaving the homeless without desperately-needed support.
Overcrowding in Shelters
The conditions in these crucial facilities are often far from ideal, with crowds of homeless people cramped into tight spaces in an attempt to provide much-needed shelter to as many as possible.
Clearly, this (along with other lifestyle factors common to the homeless) does not lend itself to the necessary social distancing required. Experts warn that the homeless population is a potential ticking time bomb in terms of infection. If COVID-19 finds its way to the homeless population, it could spread like wildfire, endangering them and the broader community.
So how can we help? Check out the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC), or the Coalition for the Homeless – all have an A+ to A- rating, according to Charity Watch.