• Brittany Evans

Coronavirus and the Homeless Population

Source: Ev on Unsplash

Across the world, homeless people have been affected by Coronavirus in severe ways. Many homeless shelters and free food sites have had to close or reduce the services they can offer due to the spread of Coronavirus. The closing of these services can create mental distress and increase the lack of hygiene facilities for the homeless population. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health , many homeless people already live in environments that are likely to spread Coronavirus due to crowded living conditions, poor hygiene, and sharing of personal items with other people. In addition to poor hygiene and living conditions, the homeless population is known to relocate frequently, therefore, causing problems with isolation, tracking, and treatment of Coronavirus. Combining poor living conditions with a lack of access to health care, and no way to quarantine means that the homeless population is at a greater risk of Coronavirus infection and transmission.

With the homeless population being at greater risk for infection and transmission of Coronavirus, testing and care should be a priority of communities. The CMAJ Group suggests that the homeless population should have access to new shelter spaces, such as hotels and motels, to allow for social distancing, as well as provide separate spaces for treatment and recovery. Much of the homeless population have no medical plan, and due to alienation from medical facilities they are not willing to be transferred to a hospital for care. USA Today reported that Oceanside, California, and Pasco County, Florida partnered with nonprofits similar to, Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County & Human Services Campus, to offer their homeless residents restrooms, hand washing stations, and cell phone chargers, as much of these luxuries were no longer available due to state-mandated closures of businesses. San Diego, California opened its convention center as a temporary shelter to assist in the housing of the homeless population.

The CDC recognizes that the homeless population may find it difficult to social distance and follow the recommended guidelines of the "3 W's: Wear, Wait, Wash" but the CDC does recommend that the homeless population try to avoid crowds, public transportation, wait six feet apart, and wash their hands as often as possible while covering their cough and sneezing into their elbow. The CDC also suggests that if a person who is homeless falls ill with Coronavirus they should reach out to their service provider, such as case managers, shelter staff, and other care providers, for assistance with isolation, and recovery. Also, the CDC has a list of resources for the homeless population listed on their website that can easily be printed for a handout.

USA Today reported that at a shelter in Santa Barbara, California in April 2020 no residents of an emergency homeless shelter were being tested for Coronavirus. USA Today also reported that when the assistant program requested testing for their residents the response was that no asymptomatic people would be tested, meaning that if an individual was not showing symptoms of Coronavirus that they were not going to be tested. These actions essentially allow the virus to spread rapidly amongst the shelter residents, staff, and anyone else that the virus carrier comes into contact with.

Multiple sources have stated the effects of the coronavirus on the homeless population have been hard to track, both for infected cases and deaths, but the coalition for the homeless has gathered some information on the effects of coronavirus on the homeless community. The Coalition for the Homeless reported that 613 homeless people died during the 2020 fiscal year in New York. That indicates a 52% increase in the homeless death toll over previous years. While not all of these can be pinned on coronavirus at least 120 deaths were thought to be confirmed or probable cases related to coronavirus.


Speaking Plainly:

  • The homeless population around the world has suffered the loss of food services, shelters, and access to hygiene, such as bathrooms and hand washing stations due to coronavirus.

  • Much of the homeless population has been unaccounted for in coronavirus-related illness and death.

  • Many states have opened hotels/motels and convention centers as emergency shelters for the homeless to encourage social distancing and provide medical care when needed.

  • The CDC has listed resources for homeless individuals affected by COVID-19 here.