Another Perspective on the Coronavirus

Donald Burnes PhD, March 23, 2020

All around the country, public officials and private citizens are responding to the coronavirus in a variety of ways. Public events are being closed; shops and businesses are being shuttered while workers work virtually; libraries, schools, recreations centers are being put on hold; and many of us are hunkering down at home. Throughout the huge explosion in attention to this pandemic, we have been told that those most at risk of both catching the disease and of suffering major health situations as a result of the disease include those over the age of 60 and those who have significant chronic ailments, such as diabetes, cardio-vascular issues, and pulmonary conditions.

An article in the March 16th edition of the New York Times suggests that there may well be a third factor that puts people at increased risk, namely poverty and its corollary, homelessness. (M. Fisher and E Bubola, “As the Disease Spreads, The Poor Are Harder Hit,” Ny Times, March 16, 2020, p.A10.) As Fisher and Bubola state, “Health organizations have said that people over age 70 are at drastically greater risk of dying from the coronavirus. But the research on chronic health conditions suggests that the threshold may be as low as 55 for people of lower socioeconomic status.” Fisher and Bubola also indicate that: far fewer at the bottom of the income latter have access to paid sick leave than those at the top; many Americans have deferred health care, doctor-recommended tests, and medications because they couldn’t afford it; and 20% of food service employees who are sick with vomiting or diarrhea have gone to work for fear of losing their jobs.

The circumstances for those experiencing homelessness are even worse. As the March 16th message from the Metro Denver Homelessness Initiative indicates, “Unlike those of us who are housed, [those experiencing homelessness] do not have a place to isolate.” They can’t wash their hands on a regular basis, and such items as hand sanitizers, so critical in times of a rapidly spreading virus, are almost always very difficult for them to obtain. Furthermore, because of compromised health conditions to start with, many of them immediately fall into the group at significant risk of contracting the disease and of suffering serious medical issues from the disease, including death. Given that the average life span for someone experiencing homelessness is between 42 and 52 (D. Maness and M. Kahn, “Care of the Homeless: An Overview.” American Family Physician, April 15. 2014, Vol 89, No. 8), some 30-40 years earlier than for the average American, the increased risk from the coronavirus may shorten that life span even more over the next several months.

Many of us who are better off ask what more we can do to address this health situation among those experiencing homelessness. There are now several ways to answer this question: volunteer, make a financial contribution, and contact local, state, and federal officials to create additional help and support, among others.

For example, The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty indicated in its most recent press release that: none of the COVID-19 relief bills in Congress to date have provided additional funding for those serving homeless populations; and Congress has not yet placed a nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Letters to your Representatives and Senators should urge correcting these gross oversights.

For those of you who wish to volunteer, the Governor’s special website is one option:

Home – Help Colorado Now (

 Mile High United Way is another good source for volunteer opportunities. Just go to the MHUW website and click on how to help address COVID19. The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative also has a list of nonprofits that need volunteer help. To reach them, go to the MDHI website. Through the Governor’s website and the website for MHUW, you can contribute money directly in support of efforts to curb the virus. The Colorado Center on Law and Policy is also dedicated to advocating for improved measures to assist those across the state who are poverty-stricken or experiencing homelessness in the midst of this national health crisis; consider contributing to CCLP through their website, Home – CCLP (

In summary, do whatever you can to assist in addressing this dread disease, especially those efforts to help those in extreme poverty and homelessness. Many need help, so do whatever you can to help them now.

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