Coronavirus impact: COVID-19 could be deadly to Bay Area's homeless population

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Coronavirus could be deadly to Bay Area's homeless population
Taking a closer look at how novel coronavirus may impact the homeless community in the Bay Area.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The novel coronavirus is especially dangerous to one group in particular - the thousands of homeless people living on Bay Area streets.

People who are in close proximity on sidewalks and in tents, inside shelters, or even living in shared spaces, like SRO's, are all extremely vulnerable to communicable diseases.

"A lot of lung disease and heart disease, a lot of people are living with cancer while they're homeless, so I'm really worried about their susceptibility to the severe complications of coronavirus," said Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations.

Dr. Kushel was traveling Monday and spoke to ABC7 via Facetime about her concerns.

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"We know that people who experience homelessness experience death rates that are extraordinarily higher than they otherwise would be if they were housed... and I think with a crisis like this... our fear is that it could come to bear in this as well."

More than 4,000 homeless people receive services in the Tenderloin everyday, so experts say installing hand washing stations on the streets would be a very effective way to help combat coronavirus.

"At the very least a big solid rack of hand washing stations at the major soup kitchens," said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco.

"We literally have thousands of people in San Francisco that don't have regular access to water."

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Friedenbach also says communities need to open emergency shelters... "so people can have a place to recover."

"It's a nightmare for folks. They're really scared."

Another question and concern about coronavirus, as it relates to the homeless population, is if there will be enough space in hospitals for the influx of patients in the event of an outbreak.

On Monday, San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management said they were working on implementing a plan to help protect the city's homeless population, but were not yet ready to release any details.