Homeless in the Time of COVID-19

To lower the number of COVID-19 cases, people are encouraged to isolate themselves and stay inside their house. This is nearly impossible for millions of workers who don’t have paid sick leave, are considered essential workers, or who live paycheck to paycheck. But what do you do when you don’t even have a house to stay in?

There are 500,000 people in the United States experiencing homelessness on any given night. Many more are at risk of homelessness because of high rent and pitiful wages. For those who are homeless, this virus presents horrible choices. Most shelters are small and cramped, with beds arranged in a “dormitory” style – multiple people sleeping in the same room, sometimes less than 3 feet apart – a perfect place for the virus to spread. But with so few shelters, which are regularly full, tens of thousands are forced to sleep on the streets, which in most cities such as New York also puts one at great risk of contracting the virus.

So, you can choose to enter a shelter and increase your risk of catching COVID-19, or choose to sleep on the streets. No one should have to sleep on the streets, period. There are more than enough unoccupied houses for the entire homeless population in the United States – about 6 houses for every one homeless person. There are plenty of hotel rooms that have no one staying in them because of the pandemic. Why can’t we house people in these vacant homes and hotel rooms?

The answer is simple. It’s because capitalism is based on profit, and it’s not profitable for the banks and landlords and corporations who own vacant homes and hotel rooms to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Featured image credit: Homeless people sleep in a parking lot with spaces marked for social distancing in Las Vegas. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters