With any public health or natural disaster emergency, those who are unhoused are often more at risk for poor health outcomes or other trauma. We understand that spread of communicable disease is much easier without adequate access to hygiene facilities or a safe home, so we wanted to share a few resources for those experiencing homelessness or service providers.
The current outbreak of the novel corona virus that started in China spreads much the same way as the flu, through person to person contact, especially through droplets in the air produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms can include: fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Most infections in healthy children and adults are mild, the greatest danger is with those who have health conditions that limit the capacity of one’s immune system.
While there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in someone experiencing homelessness in the U.S., we are concerned that people who already lack ready access to hygiene facilities, a safe home and in many cases, adequate health care, will be especially vulnerable to complications from the spread of the virus. To prevent spread of the virus, the CDC recommends washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
But what if you don’t have anywhere to wash your hands, or a home to stay away from crowds?
Read: What if you can’t stay home?
- More broadly realize that everyone who may be experiencing homelessness would not be in as great a risk of poor health outcomes, or spread of COVID-19, if they had access to safe, decent, affordable and accessible housing. We still have a lot of work to do to address the underlying income inequality and lack of low-cost housing that has perpetuated homelessness for decades.
- Ensure that national, state and community-level public health/pandemic planning and response includes the homeless population and homeless service agencies.
- Cities should provide hygiene facilities (port-a-potties, hand-washing stations) and trash pickup for residents of encampments – during and after any pandemic has passed.
- There should be a moratorium on encampment sweeps that displace already displaced households and that often cause the loss of personal property that includes medication and other life-sustaining items.
- All tests, treatment and quarantine locations should be offered without cost for all members of the community – housed or not, with or without health insurance.
- Each community should identify space that those who do not have a permanent home can access in case of quarantine. Any costs should come out of community-level public health resources.
- Federally, we would discourage homeless dollars being used to provide quarantine, testing or treatment. Homeless services are already woefully underfunded, and widespread homelessness was ALREADY a public health emergency!
- Finally, we are concerned for the safety of unhoused folks who may be discharged from medical care to make room for COVID-19 treatment. This has happened in other emergency settings.
If you are:
- Experiencing symptoms? Please go to your nearest hospital or healthcare facility. Click here to find your closes Healthcare for the Homeless clinic.
- A service agency administering to vulnerable folks? Click here for CDC Posters to post in public areas about the spread of COVID-19, and see the additional resources below.
- An outreach worker or concerned citizen, consider stocking up on bottles of hand sanitizer or wipes to hand out to folks staying in encampments or other outdoor locations.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has posted extensive information on their website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Click for added CDC guidance for homeless shelters and other service providers.
- See the Healthcare for the Homeless Council for more detailed information for homeless service providers and for finding care.
- The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has also released guidance for homeless service providers.