Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Covid 19 and Its Impact on Seattle's Homeless Population

Before the the global pandemic of Covid 19 impacted the City of Seattle our city was already in a state of emergency regarding homelessness. Seattle already has a very large homeless population compared to other major cities in the U.S. Seeing homeless tents on street corners and in parks is a common sight in Seattle. Seattle also has several large homeless tent cities where homeless individuals live in large groups.

Disasters like the Covid 19 pandemic tend to intensify problems that are already occurring in Society. This has definitely applied to homelessness in Seattle. Due to the Covid 19 Pandemic most of the organizations responsible for managing homeless individuals have shut down or have significantly reduced the services they offer.

Before they Covid 19 Pandemic housing and shelter space where already scarce. Now homeless shelters have become absolutely deadlocked. Most shelters are not accepting new clients and are actively turning away individuals who come to their door. Public housing organizations in Seattle, such as Bellwether housing for example, have significantly reduced services. Individuals who were eligible for housing before the pandemic are likely having difficulty obtaining housing as of now.

Mental health organizations such as Navos and Sound have shut their doors. They may be seeing clients by phone appointment only. Homeless individuals who go here for services will likely have difficulty getting services at these organizations.

Most homeless individuals receive or are eligible for State welfare health insurance, known as Medicaid. The State Medicaid offices have closed their doors and clients can only do business over the phone. The Medicaid system was already overburdened before the pandemic I can't imagine what it is like now.

Places where homeless individuals would go to during the day, like parks, coffee shops and libraries are  closed. Homeless individuals have nothing to do and nowhere to go during the day. Some homeless individuals ride the same bus lines all day until it's time to return to the shelter. Many homeless individuals wander around downtown Seattle. Almost all individuals that can be seen in downtown Seattle during the day right now are either homeless people or police officers.

Although additional homeless shelters have opened, it is likely that for the time being services for the homeless will not occur or occur in a very limited way. It concerns me to think of the implications of these individuals not receiving services for a long yet undetermined period of time. I could see the pandemic potentially making the conditions of homelessness much worse and more desperate than they already are. While most citizens are riding through the pandemic doing spring cleaning and working on self improvement projects, homeless individuals may be experiencing an much worse disaster. 

I could potentially see many individuals not getting access to their psychiatric medications or heroin addicted individuals not getting access to their opioid maintenance drugs like Suboxone. Homeless individuals might be deprived of basic needs like food, housing and clothing. Also, the desperate nature of the situation may cause homeless individuals to rob and victimize one another.

Individuals who are homeless face extreme risk of Covid 19 infection. The conditions of homelessness make the transmission of viruses like Covid 19 much more likely to occur. Homeless individuals often don't have access to hygiene products that protect against the spread of infection. In most homeless shelters individuals live and sleep in very close proximity to others making social distancing to prevent disease transmission very difficult.

Eventually an individual infected with Covid 19 will come through these shelters and infect other clients and staff unknowingly. In fact this has already occurred at the homeless shelter where I work. Staff are now frantically scrambling to get themselves tested. I watched one elderly employee frantically search for place that could provide a Covid 19 test after he learned he had come in close contact with the infected client. The fear in his eyes was real.

Silver Lining

A silver lining of the Covid 19 pandemic is that all the homeless tent cities in Seattle are still very much in operation. While most homeless shelters have shut their doors tent cities are still open and accepting new clients. These encampments were once demonized in the City of Seattle and now they are picking up the slack of the overburdened shelter system. 

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