NEW YORK, N.Y. — The phrase “Shelter-in-Place,” a directive from governments to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus, which turns into COVID-19, is meaningful only if a shelter is available. For the homeless population in New York, maintaining safe social distances from others is nearly impossible. The Hartford Courant reports that New York City is home to approximately 79,000 people who struggle daily to find shelter. The vast majority of these folks are of poor health to start, and they are particularly vulnerable to developing COVID-19. Adults without families cram into shelters where the next bed is within an arm’s reach. The novel coronavirus could spread through a homeless shelter in days and potentially kill them all.
The homeless can survive outdoors during warm weather, under normal circumstances. Now that 22 million people nationwide have lost their jobs, and millions more are working from their homes, people in need cannot rely on spare change from kindhearted people passing by. Additionally, the public infrastructure is closed. Public bathrooms have been shuttered; soup kitchens are closed, or working with reduced staff, thereby leaving few options for survival.
The homeless are driven into shelters to survive. Shelters are not designed to handle the problem with which we are faced today. The numbers of people in shelters keep climbing and add to the potential for widespread infection. People who were released from jail to escape the possibility of contracting the coronavirus turn to homeless shelters because they have nowhere else to go.
The Mayor of New York City is scrambling to find alternative housing for the homeless. He has turned to closed hotels to house those who would otherwise be trapped in shelters. The Mayor hopes that he could isolate homeless people suffering from COVID-19 in the hotels to prevent spreading the disease through shelters. Sadly, no one knows the true extent of how many homeless people are infected with COVID-19.
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