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Terry Nowakowski

Protecting our Homeless Population from COVID-19

March 11, 2020

by Terry Nowakowski
Consultant, Partnership for Strong Communities

Imagine being homeless and trying to protect yourself from getting or spreading COVID-19! At this very moment, there are over 3,000 individuals that are homeless in CT – not knowing where they will be sleeping tonight and just trying to survive. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, people experiencing homelessness are at higher risk to fall ill from this virus. Our response to COVID-19 must recognize and respond to the incredible risks that people experiencing homelessness face during a pandemic.

Homelessness equates to being vulnerable. Higher risk populations include older adults, those with heart disease, diabetes, lung conditions and weakened immune systems due to chronic conditions. We have known for some time, that social determinants have a massive effect on the health of people and communities. Social determinants of health are the conditions in the environments in which we are born, live, learn, work, play and worship. When we have lost our place in the world, due to extenuating circumstances, every social aspect of health becomes dislodged and our sense of security and well-being are severely threatened. It is at these times that where we live and how we live become critically important.

Poor housing quality and housing instability have been associated with numerous physical health conditions, including respiratory conditions due primarily to poor indoor air quality, mold and declining housing conditions. Many individuals who live under these conditions have complex health problems that go untreated. Vulnerable populations often do not have access to the healthcare they need. Many homeless individuals, especially those in rural areas, do not have the transportation necessary to get to a doctor. Vulnerable populations often lack a relationship with a primary care provider, which can lead to cycling in and out of hospitals.

We are currently being told by the CDC that if you suspect you have the virus, you should call your doctor and not use the hospital unless it is a true emergency. If you are homeless and suspect you may have been infected, you may not know exactly what avenue you should go down. Again, given the nature of homelessness and housing instability – you may not have access to all the updated information and may not be willing to share those concerns with others- since the most pressing need is housing, food and safety.  As an agency that advocates for the homeless population, we are following the CDC’s information on a daily basis and doing our best to share what we know.

Currently, we encourage folks to connect with a homeless service provider if they aren’t already (use 211) or talk to their provider and follow the provider’s protocol regarding their condition. Most importantly, in times like these we recognize that homelessness is unacceptable. Every person deserves a place to call home – a right to healthcare and a right to feel safe and secure in every community in Connecticut.

Additional Resources on Homelessness and COVID-19:

National Low Income Housing Coalition: Policy Recommendations for Responding to Coronavirus

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development: Webinar on Infectious Disease Preparedness Among Homeless Assistance Providers