Homelessness, like many humanitarian issues, is deeply complicated at its core. There are many causes of homelessness, ranging from domestic violence to debilitating mental illness, and often homeless individuals have a range of skills, histories, and diverse factors that led to their homelessness. Enter the coronavirus, and homelessness becomes an even more complicated topic. To learn more about the state of homeless with COVID-19 in the picture, read on.
First, unemployment, which is a common precursor to homelessness, is on a record incline. In April, the unemployment percentage skyrocketed from 4.4 percent all the way up to 14.7. This number continues to rise as May progresses, either because of the consequences of lapsing shelter-in-place orders or their continuation, depending on the state. While these measures limit potentially harmful human contact, the loss of business in this time significantly affects job numbers.
An economy with shrinking demand for workers heightens competition and squeezes out those with the least experience. Often, this means homeless individuals are finding it harder to find a job. Furthermore, this fact will likely also lead to higher rates of homelessness as some struggle to secure a new job.
Homeless Shelters Experience Challenges
Meanwhile, an important source of help for homeless individuals—the homeless shelter—faces its own challenges. Facilities built to support hundreds of people in close quarters face down how to employ safety measures to prevent an outbreak among the residents they serve. They must now distance beds, limit the number of people they take in, prepare food differently, and limit their volunteers and staff. One result is an overall lower capacity for housing homeless individuals during this time. While some states open up hotels to the homeless population, there remains a lot of work to do to meet people’s needs.
Tracing Cases Is Difficult
Another noteworthy facet in play regarding the state of homelessness with COVID-19 is the difficulty of tracing cases that spread through the homeless population. While this should not become a reason to discriminate against people looking for shelter, this is a serious issue. Because residents in one shelter are mobile and often lack identification, they could transmit the virus in one place and evade tracing attempts, slowing attempts to understand where cases come from and isolate those infected.