Illinois and a growing number of states have instructed residents stay at home, which leaves people experiencing homelessness with fewer and fewer places to go. Many describe the pandemic and its effects as unprecedented. Your support will make a difference by keeping our clients and communities safer.
Homelessness has always been a health risk. Health problems (and costs) often cause homelessness, and the streets exacerbate these conditions. People experiencing homelessness are 4 to 9 times more likely to die than their housed peers; their life expectancies shrink 20 years. Even if they began healthy, they face higher risks of infectious and chronic illnesses, behavioral health conditions, crime, and substance abuse. This was status quo before the pandemic began.
Now, people who have lost their homes are even more vulnerable. COVID-19 is especially dangerous for people with exisiting medical conditions and seniors, the latter of which makes up a growing portion of the homeless population. (BEDS has 267 clients with a chronic illness and 100 clients 61 and over). They cannot stockpile or shelter in place. Statewide closures leave them without jobs and places to spend days. Overnight shelters are limited—if they are open at all.
Homeless services are struggling to keep up. Many of our Cook County peer organizations have suspended operations. We continue a consolidated shelter program, but we cannot accept new clients. Inevitably, more employers will close without PTO; more rents and mortgages will go unpaid; and more people will lose their homes with a fraying safety net beneath.
In the end, communities will make the difference. To date, federal aid packages have not included people experiencing homelessness, but our neighbors are stepping up. For example, the Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago have partnered with the City to create to Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. You can urge state and county officials to join us and support BEDS relief efforts here.