Shelter is inextricably linked to our health. In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, how can homeless people “shelter in place”?
Even if there were enough shelter beds for everyone experiencing homelessness, communal shelters do not include enough space to allow social distancing, nor private rooms for self-isolation of those with symptoms. San Francisco, Paris, Chicago and other large cities are hoping to utilize hotels for this purpose. Some states have also proposed the use of trailers. The short-term question is whether the funds, and the accommodations, will be available in time to stop the spread of the virus among this vulnerable population. The long-term question is whether we will transition to a policy of “housing first” to address systemic homelessness.
The prophet Isaiah once asked his people why they participated in religious fasting. “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear….” –Isaiah 58:7-8
May the healing quickly appear.