The health of our nation and our unsheltered population are inseparably linked. The ripple effects of a COVID-19 outbreak among the homeless in our communities will impact each of us and the health systems already stretched so thin.
Across the country, 500,000 people are without a home, with thousands of workers on the front lines serving this population in shelters, encampments and social service agencies. Healthcare workers, emergency shelter staff, street outreach teams and other providers must be equipped to handle the inevitable outbreak of COVID-19 among our homeless populations. To protect our communities, they need clear guidance and protocols to prevent the worst outcomes, assess those who are most vulnerable and ill, and treat those suffering.
Homeless individuals have an increased risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 because of a higher likelihood of pre-existing conditions and other factors like weakened immunity and barriers to basic sanitation. We're no longer contemplating whether this disease will impact shelters and encampments, but rather when and how severe the consequences will be.
Addressing the needs of our homeless neighbors advances health and safety for everyone. In California alone, predictive modeling suggests more than 60,000 of the state's 150,000 homeless could contract COVID-19 over the next eight weeks. Across the U.S., researchers predict at least 21,000 hospitalizations and 3,400 deaths among the homeless population alone.
Through a coordinated effort among civic leaders, health systems, homeless service providers and private organizations, we can limit spread, reduce stigma and ensure everyone is cared for with dignity and respect—but we must act quickly and with a unified purpose.