Homeless population impacted by COVID-19

A+homeless+%22tent+city%22+located+near...in+downtown+St.+Paul+

Jonas Bray

A homeless “tent city” located near…in downtown St. Paul

Will Schavee, RubicOnline

As the world social distances and takes practical measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19 there is a growing population in society that simply is unable to do so. The homeless population in the United States, and Minnesota, have been rising steadily throughout the years and since 2015 have increased 10%. As this number continues to increase it seems like there is no way to ignore the people that are in the most disadvantaged place in society. It did not take a health and economic crisis for the problem of homelessness to begin, but rather the pandemic amplified the reality of homelessness in America where these people are neglected and unaided in almost every part of their life.
Those most impacted by the recent increase in the homeless population are those 55 and over. Coupled with COVID-19’s ability to target those that have pre-existing conditions, being homeless as an elderly person puts you at an extreme risk of contracting the disease and a higher risk of death as a result. Homeless shelters and other forms of support to the homeless population are reaching a limit, but not because people are going there when they contract the disease; there simply is not enough space to house everyone who needs it on any given day. Wilder Research found that since 2015, “The proportion of people not staying in a formal shelter (meaning outside or temporarily doubled up) increased considerably (62%).” As COVID-19 hits the homeless population, normal ways for the homeless to receive care become increasingly sparse. Homeless people usually rely on facilities that serve the poor to recover from an illness but as those facilities reach maximum occupancy, there is nowhere for them to turn.
Students noticed “tent cities” popping up in different parks around the metro this summer. The main worry seems to be that people are not receiving aid. Junior Zelda Harmoning said, “I have noticed a bunch of parks around Minneapolis are filled with people in tents now and with no space for social distance I worry that these people will get COVID and not have anywhere to get help.”
Furthermore, there is an alarming number of homeless people that have been diagnosed positive for COVID-19 but they are less likely to be treated. Instead they are having to rely on their own immune system to keep them alive. As elderly homeless numbers increase at such a high rate, the number of those not living in a shelter has also increased pairing elderly people with no place to stay.
The problem of homelessness has plagued human civilization since its inception but it can be worked on. Many programs can be set in place by city, state, and federal governments to provide aid to the homeless. With the introduction of federal housing assistance for example, homeless people will have a place to stay giving them a solid footing and paths to find jobs and therefore begin to pay taxes, which will ultimately save taxpayer dollars as a whole. An article from American Health & Drug Benefits states that if federal housing assistance was put in place in the United States in 2012, “Healthcare costs [could have been]reduced by 59%, Emergency department costs are decreased by 61%, and the number of general inpatient hospitalizations is decreased by 77%.” With such a staggering decrease in taxpayer dollars as a whole, the money spent for federal housing assistance would almost definitely be made back.
People have noticed the increase in homelessness and have been working to combat it. Students have shown interest in fixing the problem as well. Sophomore Ben Chen said, “I felt like I was noticing more and more people making homes for themselves in parks and since then I have been trying to find ways to help as much as possible.” He has been helping by donating to food drives and to organizations focused on helping the homeless in all aspects of life.
For those looking to help the homeless in Minnesota, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (put link in there) is doing work across the board ranging from advocacy in legislation to COVID-19 response for the homeless.
When homeless people are aided in housing, it not only helps them, but also mitigates the COVID-19 threat for everyone.