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Remembering the Unique Needs of Homeless People During the Pandemic

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

Sean Cononie of COSAC Foundation and the Homeless Voice newspaper wants communities throughout the United States to not forget about people experiencing homelessness in the face of the COVID-related tragedy around us. He is especially concerned that there is no strategy for the distribution of vaccinations within the homeless community among community leaders.

The population of people experiencing homelessness is diverse and may need different strategies to best serve their individual needs. For example, two dose vaccines pose a challenge for people who live unsheltered on the streets in cars or encampments, as they often are forced to move and therefore cannot always be found by outreach workers, and therefore might never receive the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Cononie is encouraging communities to wait a couple of weeks and use the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine when it is approved for use. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be administered in just one dose, plus, it is easier to transport to those on the streets, and does not require the extreme cold storage that the other two vaccines require. 

Picture of Sean Cononie
Sean Cononie

Cononie has worked on the streets for decades in South Florida and currently travels the streets of Broward County assisting those largely forgotten by the rest of society.  He has set up a firehouse model of emergency responders who go out on the street around the clock to provide personal protective gear, masks, water, and COVID tests. He can help house individuals if they are interested and can work to quarantine individuals who are recovering. 

Unfortunately, Cononie, a board member of the National Coalition for the Homeless, reports that the response in South Florida to the pandemic has been scatter shot at best.  He has seen mistreatment of those experiencing homelessness at some of the local hospital emergency rooms, and Cononie said some of the hospitals have given up on serving homeless people altogether.  Many people who are homeless report that hospitals will just give them a blanket, some food and then send them on their way saying, “Come back if it gets worse.”

Some cities have been successful in housing vulnerable and quarantined unhoused folks in hotel rooms, or other temporary housing. Cononie believes that his local health care system needs to find safe accommodation for those without housing to recuperate even if their symptoms are mild.  The risk of them passing the virus to a large number of people at meal programs or shelters is significant and has deadly consequences for the fragile population served by the homeless continuum.

In South Florida, as in many communities, systems have either forgotten the population or have set up bureaucracies that make it impossible for those without an address to participate in programs that would keep them safe. The religious community has stepped up to help with meals and other basics, but the need is continually increasing as the pandemic has worn on. Broward County has a relatively high unemployment rate of 7.3%, and 14.6% of the Southern Florida population do not have health insurance, both of which can lead to increases in homelessness. Cononie is committed to bringing resources to people often forgotten to get them through this global health crisis.

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