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Analysis highlights impacts of COVID-19 on the homeless population and needs

Leading researchers on homelessness estimate that more than 21,000 people experiencing homelessness will require hospitalization due to coronavirus.
March 27, 2020

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California, and Boston University have released an in-depth analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on the homeless population. The report estimates hospitalizations and deaths, as well as the needed shelter beds to comply with quarantine and social isolation.

It estimates that:

  • 21,295 people, or 4.3% of the U.S. homelessness population, could require hospitalization from the coronavirus
  • Of these, 7,145 people (1.4%) could require ICU beds
  • As many as 3,454 people (.7%) experiencing homelessness could die from the coronavirus

This volume of patients experiencing homelessness could overwhelm our already strained health care system in many communities. To prevent this, Culhane’s paper estimates that $11.5 billion is needed to secure an additional 400,000 shelter beds nationally to manage the crisis. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a severe and emergent health crisis for the homeless population across the United States, a crisis that our shelter and health systems are simply not adequately prepared to meet,” the paper warns.

We’ve heard from homeless service providers that these needs are urgent. Though many are working to secure spaces, such as hotels and motels, they lack the flexible funding and support needed to fill this critical gap. Read more about these and other challenges communities are facing here.

What you can do

The stimulus bill passed by Congress includes $4 billion dedicated to a broad range of activities for people who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness. There is an additional $5 billion of Community Development Block Grants that could be used to also support shelters. Finally, there is a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund that will be allocated to states, territories, and tribal governments based on population. 

We must ensure that this money is allocated to protect people experiencing homelessness and the front-line staff working to serve them.

Contact your governor and mayor to ask them to act quickly to make sure that the people experiencing homelessness in your community — and the organizations that serve them — receive the resources they need to respond to this crisis.