Dave “Dogdave” Hirschman, a 53-year-old man who has lived without a fixed address since 1984, begins to lose hope. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he lost his shelter at a “city-sanctioned homeless camp” in Eugene, Ore., and vision in his left eye due to a stroke. He says shelters near him are prioritizing Covid-19 patients, a reasonable step that nevertheless left him sleeping in a doorway. “I am sick now. I find blood in the Kleenex when I cleanse my sinuses, ”he says. “There are quite a few people here who are in as difficult a situation as I am, who feel forgotten and abandoned. I can say with certainty that without getting housing quickly, I have no way of surviving the winter.
Across the country, homeless people are struggling deeply during the pandemic, whether they have been homeless for as long as Hirschman or recently fallen through hard times. A computer science student in Kentucky, who wished to remain anonymous, became homeless during the pandemic after having to choose between paying for classes and paying rent. Social distancing left them without sofas to sleep on. They consider themselves lucky: they are mentally healthy and have a phone and a laptop. “Without technology, I don’t know where I would be. I call a day or two in advance to make sure I can reserve a bed at the homeless shelter, ”they say. “It’s brutally cold. You can’t sleep outside. You will die.”
The experience of homelessness has always been a health risk, and Covid-19 has only made that danger worse. Homeless people are disproportionately affected by health conditions that can exacerbate coronavirus cases and are often forced to shelter, eat, and access sanitation in gathering places where social distancing is. difficult to maintain. Experts knew this from the start, and they launched heroic efforts to create safe places for the homeless to shelter and self-quarantine during the pandemic. Many of these programs, especially those that place homeless people in empty hotel rooms, have been successful. Now, under the Biden administration, advocates hope they can expand and improve these programs and treat homelessness as the solvable problem that it is.
Before the pandemic began, homeless rates were at their highest in the United States for 20 years. While the data is yet to come, it’s hard to imagine the pandemic wouldn’t have made it worse. “We know that a large number of nearly homeless people were living in doubling situations and that due to the pandemic they may have been evicted,” says Gary Painter, social innovation researcher at the University of California South, specializing in affordable housing. . “The most likely scenario for these people is that they end up living in their car.” For people who were already homeless at the start of the pandemic, Covid-19 was instantly changing the world. “At first, especially for the homeless with significant mental health issues, people were absolutely confused. Where has everyone gone? says Carol Wilkins, a consultant specializing in the links between housing, health and homelessness. “The means they had to get food and to get money for food were gone. The people were hungry.
Then help came for some. “At the height of the initial wave – April, May, June 2020 – people started investing so much money in homelessness,” says Drew Capone, a water sanitation and hygiene researcher at Georgia Tech who studied homelessness. Additional funds have also been made available to shelters and homeless organizations through the Cares Act and other forms of government assistance, which have enabled states like California to find innovative ways to house people safely. “The most important action that has been taken has been Project Roomkey,” says Painter, referring to efforts to move high-risk people off the streets or to assemble shelters in unused hotel rooms. “He’s been successful in two areas: preventing large numbers of homeless people and families from contracting Covid, and moving people indoors at very high rates.”