Texas Homeless Network

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As COVID continues, so do its impacts on homelessness

As COVID continues, so do its impacts on homelessness

It is no secret that navigating the consequences of COVID-19 has been especially challenging for those without stable housing and/or emergency savings across the country. Countless people have become unable to work due to long-COVID, and others lost employment as a result of industry disruptions originating in 2020. Over the years, many made the difficult decision to leave their high-risk jobs to protect their physical/emotional health and still struggle to find safe employment. Low-income workers and marginalized communities continue to be the most impacted by the pandemic (Abel & Deitz, 2021).

To this day, contracting COVID makes precarious financial situations even harder to bounce back from when income or employment is lost due to the virus. At the outset of the pandemic, over 70% of Black and Latinx adults lacked emergency funds to cover three months of expenses, compared to under half of white adults. Overall, 4 in 10 Americans couldn’t cover a $400 unexpected expense. Once people are evicted or forced to break a lease due to COVID-19, the repercussions are long-lasting and devastating (Benfer, 2021). Rental and utility debt, evictions on a person’s record, and emotional and physical impacts make recovery a long uphill struggle for many low-income or unhoused neighbors. 

Compounding these challenges is the heightened risk faced by those seeking refuge in homeless shelters. The close quarters and communal living arrangements make them susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks, posing a dire threat to already immunocompromised individuals (Meehan et al., 2022; Rogers et al., 2021). Even the dedicated direct service staff have not been spared from the virus’s reach, which prompted policies that prioritized homeless frontline workers during the initial vaccine rollouts (Meehan et al., 2022). While the initial rollout of vaccines brought some relief, subsequent policy shifts have left many homeless service providers understaffed and under-resourced. The safety nets hastily erected at the onset of the pandemic have since been dismantled, leaving those in need with dwindling support.

As the virus continues to loom large, so does the economic uncertainty for frontline workers. Jobs requiring face-to-face interactions or relying on tips come with heightened risks, often resulting in lost income due to illness or safety precautions. Initial reports examining the impact of COVID-19 financial support programs like stimulus checks, rent relief, increased unemployment benefits, and increased food stamps led to a significant reduction in poverty rates (DeParle, 2021). Despite the learned lesson of this impact, many support programs have been severely, or entirely, cut across the country.

Our collective desire for a return to normalcy is understandable, but the harsh reality is that COVID-19 and its impacts are here to stay. The safety nets that once offered a lifeline to those in crisis are now disappearing, leaving marginalized populations teetering on the edge of homelessness. It’s a stark reminder of the urgent need for sustainable solutions to address housing instability in the face of ongoing challenges.

References

        • Abel, Jaison R., and Richard Deitz. 2021. Some Workers Have Been Hit Much Harder than Others by the Pandemic. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, February 2021.
        • “Benfer, E. 2021. The Appeal. https://theappeal.org/the-lab/explainers/the-american-eviction-crisis-explained/
        • Meehan, A. A., Yeh, M., Gardner, A., DeFoe, T. L., Garcia, A., Vander Kelen, P., & Rehman, N. (2022). COVID-19 vaccine acceptability among clients and staff of homeless shelters in Detroit, Michigan, February 2021. Health promotion practice, 23(1), 35-41.
        • Rogers, J. H., Link, A. C., McCulloch, D., Brandstetter, E., Newman, K. L., Jackson, M. L., & Seattle Flu Study Investigators*. (2021). Characteristics of COVID-19 in homeless shelters: a community-based surveillance study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 174(1), 42-49. https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-3799
        • DeParle, J. (2021). Pandemic Aid Programs Spur a Record Drop in Poverty. International New York Times, NA-NA.
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As COVID continues, so do its impacts on homelessness
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