DC Homeless experience COVID-19 side effects

Union Station missing spring tourists

The homeless community in the Washington, D.C. metro region are abnormally adversely affected by all the side ramifications of COVID-19 from not being able to frequent their usual haunts to not being able to panhandle. Many of the most vulnerable suffer from mental illness and may not even be aware of the crisis. They may not understand the symptoms of COVID-19 which include dry cough, fever, and difficulty breathing; or how contagious it is; let alone the dangerous complications which include pneumonia and lung suffocation.

While the Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and the DC Council grapple with delays in establishing the budget, the COVID-19 crisis has frozen the region at what is the zenith of the spring tourist season. Millions of visitors from the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival to the national awareness campaigns fighting colorectal cancer have cancelled their reservations. Museums are shut down. Many eateries are closed. Public schools and universities are mandated to online course instruction. Federal, state, and local agency offices have limited hours, if any, for the public. People who have traveled from COVID-19 countries or states must voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks. This is following the advice of WHO which is patterned after the China protocols.

In the face of such a massive jettisoning of the usual calendar of events—-even the Environmental Film Festival, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and all sporting events are cancelled—-the rich collegial internationalist thoroughfares are all but empty except for the homeless or those living in shelters who must be out during the day. They are forced to wander the streets or stand underneath building eaves or sit at park benches all day long until check-in time.

In the most recent update, according to the Mayor’s Office, the current lockdown will be extended through April 24th. Lower-income workers placed on leave are anxiously awaiting the arrival of infusions of cash guarantees from Congress’s recently passed “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act). Buried in the details, however, are uncertainties with regard to whether or not apartment renters will be able to avoid eviction from nonpayment. Currently tenants in private buildings financed without federally backed mortgage loans (Section 4024 of CARES) are not generally covered, but emergency loan funds will supposedly be set up. How and when that happens is uncertain at this point. This kind of uncertainty in and of itself can increase domestic worries and stress to the point of increasing the number of domestic arguments.

In fact at this time, extra mental health counselors are needed for people unused to living at home with their partners all day every day. Ideally, this is a wonderful opportunity to experience quality family time; however, not all domiciles are safe or peaceful. Premature evictions can lead to self-violence and require supportive interventions that are currently more difficult than usual to obtain due to shelter-in-place lockdowns.

There are already valid concerns about pork-barrel set-asides from which lawyers will be able to extract in the name of community development. For instance, under Title VI Miscellaneous provisions, four billion dollars will be set aside for “Homeless Assistance Grants” to help individuals and families who are homeless or receiving homeless assistance, and to support additional homeless assistance and homelessness prevention activities. Grassroots citizens should read the CARES Act carefully to discourage hoarding by local reverse-money-laundering entities who may squander the lion’s share for nonprofit grant schemes.

This citizen-journalist has witnessed how homeless people can become victimized and broken. They are overtreated with medications and subject to exploitation as cultural props. Those who are not yet broken-in are spoken to abusively by former or currently homeless so-called peer-advocates. Misdirected and even under-informed, elderly and disabled minorities are vulnerable to gangsterisms so they remain in the dark on how funds are siphoned off, for instance, for huge staff salaries. Recently unemployed workers are entitled to speak for themselves at state and local agencies and at council meetings without resorting to poverty pimping go-betweens.

One thing that homeless advocates and social workers have productively and successfully fought for during the COVID-19 Emergency is continued free shelter bus routes and transportation; WMATA has also temporarily suspended fares on buses although the frequency is based on the Sunday schedules. All of these are integral to the safety and health of the homeless as it provides them some additional space to sit and chill away from the elements.

Thankfully, the D.C. government quickly set up the Corona virus webpage (coronavirus.dc.gov) which is updated daily. However homeless people frequently do not even have a smart phone so they can find information online. Nor do they have access to public restrooms as much as they might need to for hand washing. If they have lost their drivers license or personal I.D., they are out-of-luck because many local agencies and nonprofits now have very limited hours. This is worrisome particularly if they need medical help or food stamps. If they visit the emergency room, the hospitals are so overcrowded, they might be told to leave.

The residents of shelters and permanent supportive housing programs are getting COVID-19 updates if not from flyers posted on walls, then most likely from peers and advocates. But social services are now quite limited. All volunteers have been dismissed for the duration of the semester. Social workers’ physical presence is cut by twofold. They are being told to telework, and provide information remotely. Naturally this impacts how much information is received and understood, when for instance even at N Street Village, the computer center is shut down. Again, shelter participants enrolled in remedial education or training programs are also adversely impacted if they do not possess their own computer. Since most of the residents have multiple challenges, they may simply not be able to handle much distance-learning anyway.

Report by AGN for Patch.com, read the rest of the story…