The Effect of COVID-19 On Homelessness in the U.S.

COVID-19 had a detrimental effect on the state of the public health sector, and it also exacerbated a national crisis that existed long before it came to be: homelessness.

COVID-19 posed unique challenges and risks for those experiencing homelessness. The economic and health impacts of the virus are much more severe on already disadvantaged people.

According to a study by UC Davis, two-fifths of survey participants from Sacramento, California reported a job or income loss between February and October of 2020. Of the participants who reported no change in their income during this period, a majority of them did not have one to begin with. This study suggests that the pandemic has perpetrated severe deprivation of the disadvantaged. Such poverty could have been temporarily relieved by stimulus checks. However, less than half of the survey participants reported that they had received a relief payment. Why? The answer is unfortunately quite simple: The government uses tax information to identify and send relief payments, so those that are unhoused are left out. These individuals do not have an address or a tax record that allows them to receive government relief. 

The economic effects of the pandemic were more severe for individuals experiencing homelessness, and the impacts on health were also detrimental. Those experiencing homelessness were at an increased risk of infection with COVID-19. This heightened infection rate is due to a lack of safe housing as well as crowded shelter conditions. The spread of COVID-19 was found to be more rapid in shelters, and the detection of the virus was less feasible due to inadequate healthcare and social services. Models of the potential effect of COVID-19 on homeless populations showed a possible infection rate of 40% with an estimated 4.3% of the sick requiring hospitalization. Shelter staff members also experienced rapid transmission of the virus, with a study showing that 30% of staff members in a Boston shelter tested positive for COVID-19.

The pandemic has taken a major toll on the lives of homeless individuals in so many ways. Beyond all of this, the virus itself is still spreading among all Americans, so its impacts on disadvantaged communities will continue to last. To learn more about how to take action in a movement to end homelessness, visit


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