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The coronavirus pandemic has brought a renewed urgency to help the homeless

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a renewed urgency to help the homeless

A number of states have implemented plans to help protect the homeless population amid the current coronavirus outbreak.

Amid efforts to manage the spread of the novel coronavirus, there has been widespread concern about the impact of the pandemic on the homeless population. With no access to safe spaces and healthcare, homeless individuals are high up on the list of those most at risk of the virus. Thankfully, given the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a renewed urgency in attempts to help those on the streets with a number of states implementing strategies to protect them.



 

On Sunday, Gavin Newsom—the governor of California—unveiled plans to move the state's homeless indoors. Announcing that homeless people would be prioritized as a vulnerable population, he revealed that there would be a massive attempt to move them off the streets and into indoor settings. According to the Los Angeles Times, hotels and motels purchased in recent days and 450 state-owned trailers set to be deployed throughout California will be used to house the homeless to reduce their exposure to the virus that has claimed over 6000 lives across the planet.



 

Newsom's announcement followed President Trump's federal emergency declaration on Friday that'll ease the funneling of Medicaid dollars to states in an attempt to help low-income individuals get tested and treated for COVID-19. This will also facilitate the opening of emergency clinics and quarantine sites for those who have no place to self-quarantine. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took a similarly unprecedented step earlier this month by publishing guidelines for the prevention and management of infectious diseases spreading among those living on the streets and in shelters.



 

Such moves are particularly important for California which is home to half of America's homeless population and over one-fifth of the coronavirus cases reported nationwide so far. The city of San Francisco has allocated $5 million to fund a series of programs to protect the health of the 8,000 people living on its streets or in shelters and the many others living in single-room occupancy hotels. It has mostly focused its efforts on the dense northeast neighborhoods, hiring more janitors and implementing more meal services to let residents stay indoors. 



 

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, hand-washing stations are being delivered to encampments across the city and outreach workers have begun maintaining social distancing from their homeless clients. This enables them to continue their work on the streets while reducing the risk of introducing an infection. While these efforts are undeniably praiseworthy, only time will tell whether they will be effective in the long-term. Containing the virus once it has been detected in crowded shelters or homeless encampments might prove impossible.



 

"I see one scenario where this virus mercifully dodges the homeless population or another scenario where it hits the homeless population quite hard," said Randall Kuhn, a professor at UCLA’s Department of Community Health Services. "Everyone is obviously facing a serious situation. Everyone is becoming increasingly aware of how serious it is — but it is still abstract." Kuhn pointed out that while homeless people are undeniably vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, chances of the virus spreading to them are low as they are generally isolated from common sources of transmission.



 

On the other hand, he warned that if the virus does reach the homeless population, "it could spread like wildfire and potentially spread back into the general population." Speaking on the subject, Bobby Watts—head of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council—said, "The reality is a typical person experiencing homelessness is at more risk of contracting a disease and affecting their health than of spreading a disease." 



 

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