NYC struggles with growing homeless population amid coronavirus crisis

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As the nation obeys orders to stay home amid the coronavirus crisis, it’s an impossible feat for the country’s homeless population. In New York City, more than 78,000 people, including children, are homeless.

“You have doctors and health professionals saying to stay home. You can’t do that. You can’t protect yourself,” said Giselle Routhier, the Coalition for the Homeless policy director. The New York City Department of Homeless Services is tracking more than 650 COVID-19 cases with 51 deaths so far.

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To slow the spread, the city will move people into hotels starting with at-risk seniors and single adults to improve social distancing.

“We have had Bowery Mission Guests who have been in our setting, become ill, gone to the hospital and now gone into a hotel. Now we actually have direct access to the hotel rooms this week for the first time, which will help keep our space safe and healthy,” said James Winans, the Bowery Mission's interim CEO.

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The city is reportedly working to make 2,500 rooms available but organizations like #HomelessCantStayHome say it’s not enough. As many New Yorkers steer clear of the subway, the homeless are not. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) says the city should handle the growing number of people living in the cars during the pandemic.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the situation is not out of control. “You can't just take someone and arrest them because they're homeless and that's not what New Yorkers would want,” he said.

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Since the outbreak, shelters and food pantries continue to see more demand for their work, too.

“This crisis is not only going to be disproportionately impacting people who are already homeless but causing some people to become newly homeless,” Routhier said. Due to the economic fallout, city food banks are doubling their daily meals.

“There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s some embarrassment, so we’re trying to be here with all the love that we can be during this challenging time,” Winans said.

To prevent more outbreaks, shelters are limiting staff, staggering meal times, recording daily temperatures, installing sanitizing stations and hand dryers, and opening public bathrooms to help the homeless stay clean.