Pandemic guidelines designed to keep people safe often overlook homeless populations, which is why UBC Okanagan researchers are looking at strategies that could help this population as well.
UBCO School of Social Work director John Graham says his team has been working on formulating strategies to help people experiencing homelessness. But when COVID-19 came around, they started to assess how the current pandemic is affecting transient residents.
Graham’s team started looking at publications dating back to 1984, examining how homeless populations were impacted by other contagious diseases like tuberculosis, H1N1 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
He said the goal of the team’s study is to help public health agencies and organizations to formulate a pandemic response to help homeless populations.
“Those experiencing homelessness do not fare well in terms of general health and this risk rises during public health outbreaks,” Graham said.
“Research findings have shown that homeless people under the age of 65 have a mortality rate five to 10 times higher compared to the general population.”
He said before their research started, no one really knew how pandemic guidelines historically impacted services for those experiencing homelessness.
Graham said we have to remember public health officials don’t always take into account all populations when they make recommendations.
“Some of the methods of response are not easily transferable to the homeless populations — that’s partially because of their transient nature,” he said.
“But it is not unusual for homeless individuals to have a number of underlying illnesses, which could leave them more susceptible to virus obtainment, transmission and mortality.”
Jordan Babando is a researcher with Graham’s team. He said there are six key themes that affect the homeless: education and outreach, the structure of services provided, screening and contact tracing, transmission and prevention strategies, shelter protocols and treatment, adherence and vaccination.
“Those experiencing homelessness often live in low-capacity shelters or transient locations that likely have no access to hygienic resources,” he said.
“This places them at increased risk of obtaining and spreading viruses in comparison to the general population.”
He added that overcrowded shelters, poor ventilation and clients who are already predisposed to infection increase the risk and complicate detection and tracing procedures.
Graham said we need to act quickly when it comes to helping those experiencing homelessness.
“COVID-19 is extraordinarily significant for all of us, but most especially our vulnerable people. We hope these findings will contribute further to the dialogue to help end homelessness,” he said.