This Pandemic is Hard on Everyone. It’s Particularly Ruthless on the Homeless.
“They need housing. It is healthcare.” -Charles King, CEO of Housing Works
While the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken billions of individuals around the world, the crisis disproportionally affects the most marginalized and disadvantaged members of society. Homeless individuals, who are often left behind by government-based relief programs, faced with substantially increased infection risk, and blocked from accessing basic healthcare services, are bearing compounding burdens due to the pandemic. Not only is the number of cases among the homeless population underreported in New York City, but a kaleidoscope of pre-existing neglect, closure of businesses and public spaces, and continued stigma places the lives of the homeless at particular risk during this pandemic.
Many of those experiencing homelessness suffer from conditions that increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and are often immunocompromised from years of living on the margins of society. As economic activity dries up in urban areas around the country, many homeless people are found without sources of income. The closure of public libraries, cafes, and other non-essential businesses, which are often used by the homeless as hand washing and showering facilities, further increases the risk for the homeless. News of the pandemic also reached the homeless population much later, leaving many unaware of the importance of social distancing. Additionally, a fear of law enforcement due to ordinances that outlaw “urban camping” dissuades homeless individuals from getting tested or seeking treatment.
Last year, over 60,000 people slept in shelters each night in New York City. Shelter conditions are often incompatible with the social distancing measures that are necessary for keeping people healthy. These tight, often overcrowded, living spaces are accelerating the spread of the virus. For many homeless people in New York City, going to a shelter poses a nonnegotiable health risk. Homeless shelters and relief organizations lack the resources and staff they need in order to provide a safe living environment for the people they serve, and a safe working environment for their staff and volunteers. While some homeless individuals have been moved into now-empty hotel rooms, they represent a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands in New York City that deserve more care.
At PPE4NYC, we believe that experiencing housing insecurity should not preclude access to healthcare, especially during this crisis. We are taking steps to support the important work of homeless relief organizations by providing face shields, sewn masks, and hand sanitizer to organizations in the city: St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, which promotes harm reduction amongst people experiencing homelessness and/or drug users, and Housing Works, which provides various services to those experiencing homelessness and HIV/AIDS. In the Hudson Valley, we at PPE4NYC have also delivered PPE to Hudson River Housing, an organization working to provide shelter and affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) prevents virus-laden droplets from spreading person-to-person, an essential not only in this time of crisis, but also as the city takes steps to reopen in the future. We recognize the conditions that are limiting these organizations from doing their life-saving work and hope that our contributions can help slow the spread of this virus.