COVID-19 has impacted almost all Americans whether it be through direct contraction, family member’s experiences or general changes in society. However, data reflects that people experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to contracting and suffering from COVID-19.
“It’s a calamity. It’s our worst nightmare,” Margot Kushel, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco who studies homelessness, said to Wired in April. “It’s an enormous crisis superimposed on an existing crisis.”
The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people experiencing homelessness exists for a multitude of reasons.
First, the protocol of staying at home and isolating simply can’t be done when people don’t have a home, so people experiencing homelessness aren’t able to quarantine themselves effectively. Additionally, social distancing makes it harder for people experiencing homelessness to gather resources that they need to live.
Homelessness can also contribute to many pre-existing conditions that cause coronavirus to be more dangerous. Stress, malnutrition, sleep deprivation and any existing health conditions exacerbated by homelessness can cause the symptoms of coronavirus to be more severe. Another significant factor is the virus is more severe for the elderly, and 23% of people experiencing homelessness are elderly.
Beyond the impact on the people who were previously experiencing homelessness, coronavirus has economically impacted people to the point of not being able to pay their rent and becoming homeless. The unemployment rate in Los Angeles County rose to 20.3% in April following the coronavirus pandemic, according to LAist.
With so many people losing their source of income, those living paycheck to paycheck and having to pay rent could lose their homes and be forced into homelessness, facing vulnerabilities to both the economic and health aspect of the pandemic.
“We have been, like, ignored,” Elisheyah, 61, a person who has been experiencing homelessness for a year, said to KSNV News 3, Las Vegas. “There’s no safety, nothing to guarantee you can be safe out here.”