What are the specific challenges and the unique risks of COVID-19 to young people facing homelessness?
- The trauma and vulnerability our young people already experience makes this even more challenging for them.
- Young people on the streets are compelled to prioritize daily survival over everything else, and suffer extraordinarily high rates of both chronic and acute health problems because of this.
- Nutrition is hardly uppermost in their minds, and they eat when, where and what they can.
- Sleeping on the streets or in crowded adult shelters has long left youth vulnerable to infections like flu and hepatitis and to conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory illnesses, including asthma and pneumonia, which require regular, uninterrupted treatment.
- Youth facing homelessness often lack health insurance, so these problems go unchecked, medication is beyond their reach, and even a minor untreated infection can morph into a major health emergency.
- Youth facing homelessness face many of the same adversities as adults, but they are still developing physically, cognitively, psychologically, and emotionally, and the risks and trauma they experience at this time can have long-lasting effects.
- Health officials are dealing with the complexities of managing a pandemic in the middle of a homelessness crisis. (One community activist said, “What essentially we have here is a health crisis being dropped into a shelter and housing emergency.”) An affordable housing crisis that has forced many individuals and families out of their homes and into the street creates a situation of homelessness that is a threat to the community in many ways.
What measures are being taken:
- Revising our intake process to include recommended questions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
- Setting aside quarantine space in the event a youth manifests COVID-19 symptoms.
- Procuring and distributing cleaning materials, tissues, and hand sanitizer throughout our programs for staff and youth to use.
- Maintaining a two-week stock of emergency supplies at all sites, including food, linens, masks, hand sanitizers, cleaning materials, and medicines.
- Regularly disinfecting frequently used common areas of our buildings and all surfaces (e.g., door knobs, handles, cabinets, railings, etc.).
- Developing emergency staffing protocol, including remote work where possible, minimal staffing (i.e., essential personnel only), and staff travel ban on both international and domestic travel.
- Monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and all official information, including guidance by the CDC and Department of Health.
- Testing and validating emergency preparedness plans at all sites for the COVID-19 health crisis that addresses youth and staff safety, communications, facilities deep cleaning and care, program disruption, collaboration with local health authorities and supplies and resources.
What can you do?
- As a friend and supporter of Covenant House, you know that the health, safety and wellness of our young people is our first priority. Many of our young people are particularly vulnerable, not only to this new virus, but to so many other illnesses, both physical and mental, that come directly from the trauma of living on the streets.
- Our young people are among the most vulnerable among us, and it is your friendship, and your unwavering support, that is their lifeline. We need you to stand with us during - and after - this challenging time. It is your support that allows our front line staff to do their quietly heroic work, often at the expense of spending time with their own families in times of crisis. And it is your support that will keep our young people safe and loved.
- We will keep you posted on developments here at Covenant House. And we pray that you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy.