New York’s Homeless Population Gets a Seat at the Table During a Global Pandemic

  • May 20, 2021
New York’s Homeless Population Gets a Seat at the Table During a Global Pandemic

BY Chelsea Sullivan
JRN 490 Spring 2021

Lucerne Hotel in Manhattan
The Lucerne Hotel in Manhattan is one of the many currently being used to house homeless individuals until the end of the pandemic. Photo by Chelsea Sullivan.

Maintaining proper hygiene and following stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic means something entirely different for the homeless population.

Congregate settings, including shelters, student housing, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes, have been flashpoints for coronavirus infections. Having residents follow COVID-19 guidelines while living in shelters is a difficult task, causing the virus to spread at higher rates.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks whenever they are in congregate settings. However, not everyone living in shelters might be willing to wear a mask at all times when they feel like they are in their home, according to Valerie Chamberlain, the assistant vice president of the Family Service League, a nonprofit organization providing housing rehabilitation for homeless individuals and families on Long Island.

“Are they going to wear their mask when they’re sleeping, too?” Chamberlain asked on behalf of some of the people living in her shelters. “We mandate them to wear the mask when they’re in common spaces and some do, but some don’t. But we can’t kick anyone out. We have no leverage to say, ‘you have to wear a mask or else.’”

In addition to being unable to isolate, unsheltered homeless have to cope with the stigma that they are super spreaders of the virus, making the public more apprehensive than they already were.

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