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Virus X Vagrants

At Times When All of Us Are Yearning to Leave the House...What About Those Who Have None?

In these tragic times of the Covid 19 pandemic when all of us were quarantined and completely secluded from the outside world, I'm certain that even the introverts among us expressed the desire to leave the house. However, while all of us were pining to go out, no less than 150 million people, which is about 2% of the world's population, were living without homes. Other than this portion which is homeless, more than 1.6 million people were living without adequate housing facilities, food, clothing and other primary requirements such as educational facilities, healthcare and sanitation.

In terms of economics, it will not be inaccurate to say that these homeless people are a burden to the economy as their overall productivity and contribution towards the nation is zero as they are not provided with employment opportunities and contribute nothing towards the general output of the economy and thus, render no income. Their inability to pay taxes is also another factor to add on to their lack of benefaction to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the country.

According to experts, the number of the homeless has increased during this pandemic, partly due to the fact that 22.2 million people were rendered unemployed. In New York, more than 57,000 people experienced destitution in August, 2020. As of May 31, 2020, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) in New York City reported 926 confirmed positive cases in about 179 shelter locations. By this date, the DHS reported 86 deaths of the homeless. In April itself, 58 people died of Covid-19 among the homeless, a vast number of whom were residing in public shelters.

The issue of a roof over their heads was not the only concern of these people as there was a shortage of other necessary commodities such as food, clothing and basic sanitation. Due to lack of assistance and volunteers, the soup kitchens of the homeless shelters experienced food shortages. In March, a homeless New Yorker tweeted, saying that there had been shortage of food in all homes and shelters for two weeks.

Systematic racism or as Harrison said, "The naming of the process of white supremacy", is the discrimination against the coloured community. According to the research data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; African Americans, Native Americans, American Indians, Hispanic and Latino people are more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. They also experience homelessness much more than the white population for various reasons. According to Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, "The whole history of housing segregation and discrimination of African Americans in this country are really what has led to African Americans being 13% of the general population, and over 40% of those experiencing homelessness at any given time." This sect, which is at a disadvantage during normal situations faced an extreme disadvantage during this pandemic as a majority of this population work outdoors so they had a higher chance of contracting the virus than others staying at home. Housing segregation, limited access to quality education, working in a lower-wage job and being more likely to have interactions with law enforcement due to racism increases the risk of homelessness for these people. All these factors lead to poor health and thus increase the risk of being infected.

Another sector which is affected terribly by this pandemic is the migrant community. All over the world, migrants and refugees who have fled from their countries, live on the streets in tents and camps. Approximately 3000 homeless migrants lived in makeshift camps in the streets and public parks of Paris until recently. Many migrants lived in temporary or communal housings or on the street even before the announcement of the lockdown. They faced poor sanitary conditions and lacked access to basic medical care. The same people have also been confronting a crack or drug epidemic, harassment from police, exploitative working conditions and repeated evictions by the authorities which adds on to their troubles. These temporary housing accommodations have been removed due to community guidelines of social distancing which has rendered the migrants and refugees helpless and homeless. The loss of jobs of migrant workers only increased their difficulties.

Healthcare is also a major issue amongst these destitutes as on most occasions, qualified health personnel are not available to treat them and this situation only deteriorated during the pandemic as there was a scarcity of doctors and nurses all over to treat the massive numbers of Covid-19 patients. In the US, which has a majorly privatised insurance system, healthcare is practically unaffordable and only 5% of the population. Living without proper shelter and accommodations is detrimental for health under usual circumstances as is proven by the fact that homeless people are 20 times more likely to be infected with diseases like tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases, trauma, major mental illnesses, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and a host of other minor but still harmful disorders.The result of all this is that homelessness drastically reduces people’s life expectancy. It is estimated that people experiencing homelessness die almost 30 years earlier than the remaining population on an average.

During the pandemic, these people were left completely exposed to the coronavirus pathogens. Thus, these people had no other option but to find shelter in public homes and shelters which inadvertently became crowded. The basic health and safety guidelines of social- distancing, self isolation and increased sanitation was not an option for this sector of the population which highly increased the risk of transmission of the Coronavirus for them. Their institutionally poor immunity system worsened the situation even further.

The homeless are not only the most vulnerable but transmission of the virus is also harder to contain in their case. This is where their problem becomes a public hazard and concern which should be addressed as soon as possible, in the most practical manner. If this is not carried out, then this admittedly small sector of the population becomes a danger to the mass.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to legislation. The only way in which this major problem can be solved is if the government starts viewing this issue as a public health emergency which requires immediate attention. Properly sanitized shelters should be provided with all the required facilities in all the developed economies of the world at the least. In the underdeveloped economies where the numbers of the homeless increase and the amount of available resources decreases, vacant houses or hotels should be provided. This has been done by cities such as New York, California, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Minnesota. Another solution is to build convenient housing facilities and to provide them with enough money to be able to afford them. If these people are provided with some sort of occupation or permanent housing, then their contribution to the economy would increase exponentially and would add on to the national income which would further help solve these issues.

Only by treating this problem as a National Emergency can we even begin to hope to solve it.

Written by Aishi Banerjee

Illustrated by Jeia So


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