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Sage Against The Machine.
Libertarian Humanist.

Sage's Recommendations For Working With Homeless People In A Coronavirus World

March 11, 2020

I want to make very clear that I am not a doctor. I am simply a person who is as educated as many people are with what is happening in our world with Coronavirus.

That said, I haven't seen any realistic documentation and recommendations on how best to work with homeless people during this time of Coronavirus in America... especially with our lack of ability to adequately test people.

HUD has created a toolkit to help caregivers of our homeless neighbors here: Infectious Disease Toolkit for CoCs - HUD Exchange. It addresses what to do at various stages of homelessness.

They have Webinars about this topic. Here is one of the webinars:

There is also this page: National Coalition for the Homeless What homeless folks should know about Coronavirus (COVID-19).

And this is a good page too: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources | United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH)

These tools are all well and good. However, many of the recommendations simply aren't going to happen.

These are the recommendations from HUD:

  • Communicate the need for access to clean water, hand washing stations, and
    public restroom access for people living in encampment sites to key stakeholders
    responsible for the provision of municipal services.
  • Educate municipal partners on the risks of disease spread in both sanctioned and unsanctioned encampments and the potential impact on the broader community.
  • Thoughtfully include law enforcement partners when appropriate.
  • Encourage public works and sanitation departments to create regular schedules for the provision of trash pick up.
  • Encourage public health partners such as Healthcare for the Homeless, PATH
    providers, and local public health departments to create regular schedules for
    onsite vaccinations and street medicine services.

I spoke with a reporter yesterday who said that when he contacted a homeless shelter yesterday, March 10 2020, they had made NO plans for dealing with coronavirus.

I do not believe we are going to see ANY activity from the Summit County Continuum of Care or our local government when it comes to working with our homeless population. Nor do I believe that most of the country will be providing things like hand washing stations and porta potties and trash pickup for homeless people in unsanctioned homeless camps. I certainly can't imagine anything like that happening in Akron Ohio.

This will increase death among homeless people and will also increase transmission of coronavirus within our community as a whole. Homeless people will be continuing to enter stores and gas stations likely untested and untreated which will spread coronavirus to many other people.

There is absolutely NO PLAN as to quarantining sick people who don't have a home.

Respiratory illnesses are prevalent in the homeless community, as are other significant health issues. This makes the homeless population a high risk group of people. Coronavirus is a deadly condition for homeless people.

No matter what angle you look at this, homelessness and coronavirus is a very serious issue that is not being adequately addressed by homeless service providers.

Here are my recommendations as to what we should potentially do in the real world. These are recommendations for both homeless helpers and homeless people themselves.

If you are sick with ANYTHING do not visit homeless camps or shelters or transitional houses. In America, we simply are not testing appropriately for coronavirus. We know that it is now in Northeast Ohio. And we have no way of knowing if people have it or not. If you have a runny nose, fever, cough, ANYTHING, please refrain from going near homeless people. They will get infected.

Do not bring food or any other supplies to homeless people if you or anyone around you is sick. Coronavirus can live on items for some time. Because homeless people are such an at risk group you are endangering their lives by bringing potentially contaminated items to them.

If you are sick, just assume you have coronavirus when working with homeless people. We can't get tested. So we can't know. This is a life threatening issue for our homeless friends. Please treat it as such.

From here: Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC:

The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.*

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Please be on the lookout for these symptoms for our homeless friends. 

If you see these symptoms in a homeless person PLEASE call a healthcare provider for the person.

Here is the number for the Summit County Health Department:
(330) 923-4891

Here is Summa Health Akron Emergency Department number: (330) 375-3361

And here is an article from the CDC on what to do if you think you or a friend have coronavirus:

Prevent Others from Getting Sick | CDC

When in doubt, call 911.

If you believe a homeless person has coronavirus DO NOT transport them in your car. Call for an ambulance. They will infect your vehicle potentially for days.

If an ambulance won't come then I don't know what to tell you. I might transport people in the back of my pickup truck.

This is what the CDC says:

Wear a facemask if you are sick.
  • If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) or pets and before you enter a healthcare providers office.
  • If you are caring for others: If the person who is sick is not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with the person who is sick should not stay in the same room with them, or they should wear a facemask if they enter a room with the person who is sick.

We should try to get supplies for people we are working with in the woods and on the street.

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissues
  • Facemasks for people who are sick
  • Rubber gloves

I believe homeless people will become sick and will be sent away from hospitals. So they will be in camps, in shelters and in transitional houses.

You are going to have to make a very educated decision if you are going to help these people when they are sick.

Here is my recommendation for ideas on what to do if you choose to help homeless people that become infected with coronavirus.

  • Wear clothes that you can change out of when you are done working with them.
  • Take a thorough shower when you are done working with an infected person.
  • Wear rubber gloves when working with the person.
  • The sick person should have a mask on when you are working with them and so should you. Wear a mask when you are working with a sick person. If you can't get a mask put a scarf or bandanna over your mouth and nose.
  • Make sure you thoroughly wash your hands when you are done working with them.
  • I will likely quarantine myself in my camper if I start working with sick people. I will stay away from home for 14 days AFTER the last time I come in contact with a person with coronavirus. (I realize that's not possible for everyone. But it might be something to consider if it's possible for you.)

This appears to be a very serious pandemic. They will likely compare it to the 1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus).

Hospitals are not going to have enough ventilators to treat people. They may not have enough beds to treat people. I feel quite strongly that volunteers are going to be treating homeless people in place. It will be inadequate. But it always is with how we treat homeless people.  At least they will know that people care about them and they are loved.

Please be smart. And if you have any additional ideas please post them in the comments below.




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