With less access to health care, food and shelter, homeless people are especially vulnerable during a pandemic. But across the country, social service and public health organizations are working to make sure they don't fall through the cracks.
Chandra Matteson: "We're trying to strengthen our services so that people who need them right now have them at their disposal."
Chandra Matteson is a nurse practitioner with The Night Ministry. The Chicago nonprofit provides shelters for homeless youth, as well as mobile health services and meals to anyone experiencing homelessness. And amid the pandemic, the organization's Health Outreach Bus is still making its regular stops.
On top of checking in on her regular patients, Matteson says she's also been seeing "a fair number" of new clients who are now unstably housed, uninsured or just unable to see their primary care doctor.
Matteson: "I think to Chicago's credit, I think there are a fair number of resources available. The problem is that everything is so chaotic, that it's really hard to focus in on what those resources are. I do know that while we might be the most comprehensive health care for the homeless population, we're certainly not by any means the only organization that is checking on them … Everybody's just kind of stepped up."
On Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced new plans to "respond to cases of COVID-19" among the homeless population. Those plans include dispatching nurses to the city's shelters, expanding coronavirus screenings for shelter residents and staff, installing washrooms at encampments, and building a "network of care for the homeless that will extend beyond this outbreak."
Similar measures are being taken across the country to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among homeless communities. In states like Oregon, Washington, New York and California, commercial hotels are being turned into temporary shelters with support staff and food.
Thousands of rooms have already been secured.