People experiencing unsheltered homelessness (those sleeping outside or in places not meant for human habitation) may be at risk for infection when there is community spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus. There is much to learn about the transmission, severity, and other features of the disease. Everyone can do their part to help plan, prepare, and respond to this emerging public health threat.

Lack of housing contributes to poor health outcomes and linkage to permanent housing continues to be a priority. In the context of COVID-19, the risks associated with sleeping outdoors in an encampment setting are different than with staying indoors in a congregate setting such as an emergency shelter or other congregate living facility. Outdoor settings may allow people to increase distance between themselves and others. However, sleeping outdoors often does not provide protection from the environment, quick access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, or connection to healthcare. The balance of risks are to be considered for each individual experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

At this juncture we are launching a series of “Daily Thank You” to acknowledge and recognize the efforts of all key players in our efforts to end homelessness during these trying times. Who else but the Homeless Outreach Teams (HOT) are the perfect launch partner as they are our front lines. These workers need to be prepared to protect themselves and their clients, provide health education information, and help direct their clients to care as necessary. They still greet their clients (from a safe distance) and explain their taking additional precautions to protect themselves and the clients from the virus. They screen clients for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 by asking them if they have a fever, new or worsening cough, or shortness of breath. If they detect symptoms, immediately provide surgical masks. If urgent medical attention is necessary, they use standard outreach protocols to facilitate access to healthcare. And they provide all clients with hygiene products, if available. The Homeless Coalition, thanks to a grant from the IBIS Foundation, just as the crisis hit, provided 200 hygiene kits which come in handy now.

Let’s give a shout-out to all the relentlessly working Homeless Outreach Team members:

Your friendly, non-threatening discussions build trust and rapport. Nothing is forced; it is always the homeless’ choice whether he or she wishes to take advantage of public assistance. But the first step always is you to stop and ask, “How are you doing?” Thank you so much for your hard work. Because of you we will get through this crisis in a safer manner.