Rave blog Post

COVID-19 and the Impact on the Homeless Population

To address and combat the quickly spreading COVID-19 crisis, state and local governments across the United States have issued strict social and physical distancing orders. Although these recommendations have been taken seriously by most, those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity are unfortunately unable to follow these safety measures, making this population more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

People experiencing homelessness during today’s pandemic are paying an especially high price, with businesses slowly reopening and social services spread extremely thin. Global Citizen explains that the coronavirus pandemic has driven many people off the streets and into shelters, in which they are met with the perfect conditions for the rapid spread of the virus: overcrowded and sometimes unsanitary conditions, surrounded by others who have come in contact with hundreds of people prior to entry, with the added risk of pre-existing conditions.

Related Blog: What Are Cities Doing To Combat Heat For The Homeless Population

CDC Interim Guidance on Unsheltered Homelessness Amid Coronavirus

As state and local leaders work to create safe environments for the homeless populations, they’ve had to tackle challenges such as overcrowding and relocation, maintaining staff and volunteer safety, ensuring needed supplies are refilled, and more.

The CDC is recommending outreach and community collaboration for COVID-19 prevention and response for people experiencing homelessness, and claim a “whole community” approach is essential. A community coalition should include:

  • Local and state health departments
  • Outreach teams and street medicine providers
  • Homeless service providers and Continuum of Care leadership
  • Emergency management
  • Law enforcement
  • Healthcare providers
  • Housing authorities
  • Local government leadership
  • Other support services like case management, emergency food programs, syringe service programs, and behavioral health support
  • People with lived experiences of homelessness

A mass notification solution can be extremely beneficial for keeping all key partners informed and on top of their responsibilities. By communicating internally, those on each team will have a good understanding on what needs to be done to assist the homeless populations on a local and statewide basis.

Related Blog: How Governors are Collaborating on Reopening Economies

To keep homeless services running throughout the pandemic, plans and resources must be identified to support people who are sleeping outside. Furthermore, the creation of additional temporary housing and shelters may also be required. Sites should try to include individual rooms that can provide appropriate services, supplies and staffing. Here’s what the CDC recommends:

  • Overflow sites:
    To accommodate shelter decompression and higher shelter demands
  • Isolation sites:
    For people who are confirmed to be positive for COVID-19 by laboratory testing
  • Quarantine sites:
    For people who are awaiting testing, awaiting test results, or who were exposed to COVID-19
  • Protective housing:
    For people who are at highest risk for severe illness from COVID-19

What Other Cities Have Done 

In New York City there were many cases of COVID-19, especially for those who were staying in crowded dorm-like shelters. In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 6,000 individuals would be relocated to empty hotel rooms by April 20, 2020. Of these individuals, seniors and individuals who had exhibited symptoms or tested positive for the virus were prioritized, according to Global Citizen.

California Governor, Gavin Newsom, also addressed the homeless populations concerns by creating Project Roomkey. This project planned to house 15,000 of the state’s high-risk people experiencing homelessness in hotels across San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. With California having a huge estimated 150,000 homeless people in the state, getting those safely to hotels, motels, and safe shelters is of paramount importance.

Related Blog: Cities Can Be Punished for Not Reducing Homelessness

Sharing Information and Communicating Effectively 

Homeless populations may not have access to all of the updated information about COVID-19 and what services are being provided to support them. For those with mobile devices, regular mass messages including coronavirus information, educational materials, and homeless service policies should be sent out as targeted communications. SMS opt-in can also be a useful tool for homeless populations to opt-in to specific types of messaging.

For those without access to a mobile device, strategically hanging up signs and posters with the pertinent information, such as available shelter options and coronavirus safety tips in multiple languages, can also be beneficial.

State and local governments can also leverage their vulnerable needs registries to enable faster emergency communications throughout the coronavirus crisis. A vulnerable needs database allows local officials to gather resident-provided data for more accurate emergency response planning, taking homeless individuals into consideration.

Universal - State and Local Coronavirus Recovery Solution

Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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