How COVID-19 Has Changed the Face of Homelessness in America.
It’s a word that conjures up different emotions and disturbing images for most people. At one time, the popular myth was that America’s homeless population was exclusively comprised of those suffering from mental illness, substance addiction, or the occasional family “living out of a car” from falling on extremely hard times.
Although this may have been true at some point in our history, this is far from true today.
Most people would be shocked to learn that in states like California, roughly 50 percent of their 150,000 residents living in homeless camps are either currently employed or had been employed within the last 6 months. Many of them have no history of mental illness, drug abuse or criminal records... They simply lost their jobs or could no longer afford rent.
Yes, homelessness has always been the dark side of our “sink-or-swim” free-market economy. But, like all other aspects of our society, COVID-19 has significantly changed everything. And to add insult to injury, social media questions such as, “If Cornovairus was so deadly, why aren’t there thousands of homeless bodies lying on the street?” or “Why hasn’t COVID-19 wiped out homeless people if it's so contagious?"detract from the real problem at hand.
Contrary to the media’s stereotype, today’s post-coronavirus homeless population include mentally-healthy, able-bodied, and drug-free personal trainers, restaurant servers, hair stylists, hotel workers, actors, musicians, retail workers, casino workers, mothers, children, veterans, elderly people, and small business owners.
Those who live on the streets are no longer exclusively "those" crazy people with drinking problems... They are now our former neighbors living without walls.
On August 8, President Donald Trump announced he will implement several executive orders designed to mitigate the economic devastation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Some actions — including cutting payroll taxes for workers, renewing a federal moratorium on evictions, and deferring student loan payments until the end of the year — are sure to provide relief to millions of struggling Americans... But is it enough?
The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly all sectors of the economy. In fact, it would be an understatement to say that people have been more impacted by the COVID-19 economic drought than any other event during our lifetime.
And, despite the fact that the President’s plan addresses many aspects of the American economy, homeless people are being left behind by most of society.
The last time a global survey was attempted by the United Nations, an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide in 2005. One can only imagine what that number looks like today.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, over a half a million Americans experience homelessness on a daily basis. And while seeing people living on the streets is a common occurrence in America, COVID-19 has exacerbated the poor conditions which contributed to the problem.
In fact, several statistical outlets have shown that homeless people are more vulnerable to experience harsher effects of the coronavirus than most other demographics.
First and foremost, as social service programs become less available and businesses close, COVID-19 has forced many homeless people to gather in sub-standard living quarters. As a result, many epidemiologists are concerned that unhoused people do not have the luxury of “social-distancing” themselves in shelters across the United States.
Gina Neff, a professor of sociology at the University of Oxford in England, offered a bleak assessment of the situation earlier this year:
“What we’re seeing in this first wave in the US is that the largest clusters are in populations where people don’t have a lot of agency,” elaborating that “These populations will become the sources of new outbreaks, even when we feel like we kind of have it under control.”
A major obstacle facing the government is the inability to track, test, and prevent transmission of the virus among the homeless population. As most Americans know, homeless people are more transient than the general public, making these factors difficult to assess.
This is extremely disheartening, considering the fact that the number of positive coronavirus cases in the United States has surpassed 5 million. Furthermore, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University, there have been more than 166,000 deaths in the United States from the contraction of the virus.
As teams of brilliant scientists engage in efforts to combat the spread of the disease, there is a chance there are many more people infected with COVID than what is being reported.
The official statistics may be so inaccurate that, according to a paper written by professors at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, coronavirus infections may be 12 times higher than what is currently being reported. In essence, the spread of the disease among the homeless population may be blunting efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The emergence of COVID-19 has not only jeopardized the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of most Americans, it has utterly wrecked our national economy. Before the coronavirus outbreak, many Americans overlooked homelessness as an afterthought.
Now, after millions of renters are at risk of being evicted from their homes, the prospect of becoming homeless has entered the conscious thought of many.
Fortunately, there are a number of local heroes raising awareness and filling in the gaps where local governments have failed. One of those heroes based in Florida is Rozanne “Roxy” Brown, the founder and CEO of CareBag, Inc.
Rozanne "Roxy" Brown, Founder and CEO of CareBag, Inc.
CareBag, Inc. is a grass-roots, all-volunteer, non-profit organization established in 2017 to help Roxy’s local homeless population find the food, shelter, and hygiene products they need.
Founded in memory of Roxy’s beloved daughter, Amelia Brown (who was known for handing out bags of food to homeless people before she passed away at seven-years-old from an unexpected illness), CareBag serves families in need around Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast of Florida.
In an exclusive interview with The Gen Z Post, Roxy explains how the emergence of the coronavirus has been a nightmare for those in need:
“COVID has affected the homeless greatly, and not only the population I work with, basically everyone,” said Roxy, elaborating on how the lack of employment makes it difficult for people to afford basic items such as pampers, food, and hygiene products.
“We immediately found out that we weren’t just dealing with our homeless population in need, we were dealing with everyone on every spectrum.”
When asked whether COVID contributed to a spike in homelessness in the areas in which CareBag operates, Roxy stated: “Yes, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the homeless population, especially families with young children.”
When asked what her number one challenge was during this difficult time, she quickly named two. “Our top challenges right now are fundraising and gathering volunteers. We cannot exist without the generous donations of our community members who are now facing financial constraints, and we’re unable to have our volunteers come together to distribute items in service areas which has been the backbone of our program in the past. But somehow, we will find a way to move forward. Our homeless need us now more than ever, and we will find a way to continue to serve them with the respect and integrity they deserve."
CareBag, Inc. volunteers Bishop Allen Rivers (L) and Junior Brown (R) provide food and hygiene items to the homeless on Florida's Treasure Coast.
A recent report published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness projects that the homeless population in the U.S. “will be 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 as the general population” as a result of the pandemic.
Actual numbers of how many homeless people have been infected or have died from COVID-19 are not known yet. “There’s an ad hoc nature to not just the response to this crisis just generally speaking, but with the data tracking,” Daniel Treglia, a co-author of the NAEH report, told Factcheck.org.
So, what is the solution? Filling empty hotel rooms. Building more shelters. Hiring new employees to provide “living skills” support services. Creating more low-skilled, infrastructure jobs. Providing free mental health care, free substance abuse treatment, and more temporary housing until people can get back on their feet. And most importantly, supporting legislation that contains housing costs and provides living wages to all people willing and able to work.
Homelessness is not the primary problem, it is the byproduct of a society letting its most vulnerable citizens fall through the cracks.
There ARE solutions. Not theoretical solutions, but solid fact-based solutions that can be implemented with the stroke of Congress’ pen.
Be sure to ask your political candidates what their plan is to help our neighbors without walls. Because one day, your life might depend upon it.
For more information about CareBag, Inc. please visit: http://www.CareBagFL.org
For more information on this topic, please visit Factcheck.org. They provided this great list of sources used in this article as well:
Coronavirus Resource Center. “COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering.” Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“Assessment of SARS-CoV-2 Infection Prevalence in Homeless Shelters — Four U.S. Cities, March 27–April 15, 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 May 2020
“COVID-19 Outbreak Among Three Affiliated Homeless Service Sites — King County, Washington, 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 May 2020.
Culhane, Dennis et. al. “Estimated Emergency and Observational/Quarantine Bed Need for the US Homeless Population Related to COVID-19 Exposure by County; Projected Hospitalizations, Intensive Care Units and Mortality.” National Alliance to End Homelessness. 23 Mar 2020.
Gerda, Nick. “Homeless Deaths Are Spiking in Orange County.” Voice of OC. 12 May 2020.
“California Struggles to Slow COVID-19 Among Homeless.” Associated Press. 18 Apr 2020.
Katersky, Aaron and Ella Torres. “At least 27 New York City homeless, among hundreds of cases, have died from COVID-19.” ABC News. 15 Apr 2020.
Jolicoeur, Lynn and Lisa Mullins. “Surge In Coronavirus Cases In Boston’s Homeless Population ‘More Dramatic Than We Anticipated.‘” WBUR. 6 Apr 2020.
Homeless Research Institute. “Population At-Risk: Homelessness and the COVID-19 Crisis.” National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Article written by Jett James Pruitt
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