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New York City’s Homeless Fighting COVID-19

By Milo Mandelli-Valla ’24

An estimated 60,000+ homeless people are without shelter or sufficient housing (Photo Credit: City & State NY)

As COVID-19 cases surge in New York City, homelessness is on the rise.

In July and August, the New York City economy was just starting to recover with restaurants offering outdoor dining and stores opening at limited capacity. The economy, though, struggled immensely in the early months of the pandemic, with people losing their jobs and some becoming homeless.

During the start of the pandemic in particular, according to THE CITY, New York City homeless shelters were inundated with COVID-19 cases, and the people in the shelters were not made aware of this. Alphonso Syville, who lives in a homeless shelter in New York City, said, “They’re definitely not telling us anything, and it’s very scary.”

The Coalition for the Homeless conducted a study which concluded that the homeless had a 61% higher rate of death in New York City than people who were not homeless. The study also pointed out a lack of access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, as well as very cramped living environments, which heightened the spread. The study found multiple cases in 200 of 450 New York City shelters, and due to the limited testing, it is possible that the shelters could have had even more cases.

According to CBS, at the start of June, homeless New Yorkers were dying at a rate of 321 in 100,000 from COVID-19. Conversely, New Yorkers with homes were dying at a rate of 200 in 100,000 from COVID-19, further emphasizing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the New York City homeless population. On top of that, there were 926 COVID-19 cases in 179 shelters––roughly five cases in each shelter.

In August, however, the city decided to house homeless people in Upper West Side hotels. This decision upset residents of the area, as some of those housed in the hotels were reportedly selling and using drugs in the open and urinating on sidewalks.

The opposition to this decision of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Facebook group “Upper West Siders for Safer Streets,” advocated for the mayor to reverse the decision. Eventually, after the Facebook movement garnered over 13,000 members, the homeless people were moved out of the neighborhood and into shelters that were already at maximum capacity.

Looking to the future, the Wall Street Journal said that there could be an increase from around 60,000 people to over 65,000 homeless people in New York City without a shelter or sufficient housing.


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