Government officials and health experts are asking the public to stay home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This bears us to ask, what about the population who does not have a home to call their own? Social distancing isn’t an easy option for our nation’s vast homeless population.
“Social distancing is a luxury that the homeless can’t afford,” said Shirley Raines, founder of Beauty 2 The Streetz, a nonprofit that provides services to homeless people on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
According to the State of Homelessness in America’s 2019 report, around half a million Americans are homeless on any given night. Of these people, approximately 35 percent “rough sleep,” sleeping on the streets or other places the government describes as not intended for human habitation. Those who do not rough sleep, around 350,000 Americans, live in sheltered buildings such as emergency shelters and transitional housing programs.
This organization found that the majority of homeless people live in the states of California, New York, Florida, and Texas, however, increases have been seen across the country with state growth rates ranging from 1 percent (Iowa) to 100 percent (South Dakota).
Constance Collins, president of Lotus House in Miami, the largest women’s shelter in Florida, shared, “We are practicing 6-foot social distancing but it’s especially hard when you have 250 children in one place.”
While some of the homeless population has nowhere to go, others find themselves in shelters. Collectively, the concern is their health. Experts say that those experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to contract the coronavirus.
According to Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for Homeless Council, “people experiencing homelessness endure lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and extreme levels of stress just to meet their daily needs, all of which weaken the immune system.”
Watts offers suggestions to shelters to encourage refugees to sleep foot-to-foot and to stagger mealtimes and intake times to promote social distancing standards.
As a community, we can ban together to surround and support our fellow Americans who are having hardship, and this includes the homeless community. We can take a compassionate approach in helping all Americans manage quarantine for the sake of their health, and the community at large.
Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness said, “Homeless service providers are facing a long list of needs during the COVID-19 outbreak. We are seeing a great need for cleaning supplies, gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, water bottles, and similar items.” Americans are encouraged to donate to local shelters to help provide basic necessities to individuals and families in need.
Roman also encourages anyone with medical experience to volunteer in shelters, too. “There is an important need for medical support right now and shelters may need people with relevant medical knowledge to advise and consult them during this time.”
Our communities are only as healthy as our most vulnerable population. When we work together and lead with our hearts, we overcome big things. We are all in this together, and together we will prevail.