More than 500,000 people experiencing homelessness are at high risk of contracting coronavirus. Having no shelter of their own to “stay at home,” they cannot control their environment, take preventive measures, or isolate, self-quarantine, or recover. Many people experiencing homelessness also have underlying medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends preventive measures to avoid spreading the coronavirus, such as washing hands, maintaining a social distance of six feet from others, covering one’s mouth and nose with a face cover, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily. Crowded shelters and encampments, outdoor sleeping arrangements, and housing instability make it difficult for people experiencing homelessness to engage in these preventive measures as well as to maintain their general wellbeing. Wellness activities like getting enough sleep and accessing nutritious food are even harder during the pandemic due to food shortages and shelter closings.
The CDC has warned that people over the age of 65 may be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. Not only is the older adult homeless population growing, but studies show that living without a home can accelerate the negative health effects of aging. According to the most recent HUD data, on a single night in 2019, over 100,000 individuals over the age of 45 were homeless.
The CDC has also warned that people with serious, pre-existing medical conditions are more likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19. Many people experiencing homelessness have underlying medical conditions. Some had serious illness before they became homeless, which led to a loss of income and to economic insecurity. Others develop serious medical conditions as a result of homelessness due to sleeping outside and/or in crowded settings.
People experiencing homelessness who contract COVID-19 are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than others in the general public. Researchers estimate that without an investment of $15.5 billion to protect people without homes, as many as 20,000 could require hospitalization and nearly 3,500 could die from COVID-19. Congress provided $4 billion for homelessness response in the CARES Act; they must now pass the additional $11.5 billion that is needed.