What you need to know:
Nationally homeless has increased only slightly since 2018 but in Seattle life on the streets is a different story. Homeless in Washington continues to outpace the national average, this past year Washington saw one of the largest increases in homeless populations in the country growing by over 1,000 people in a single year. “In a single night more than 22,000 people were counted in shelters and on the streets in Washington” (Walters).
This ever-increasing growth rate has continued to create issues and tension within Seattle. Neighbors are fed up with homeless encampments decreasing their property value, leaving messes, and making their neighborhoods unsafe (Coleman). But these people have nowhere to go. While Seattle NGOs and county orders have worked hard to keep up with demand there are still not enough beds to house all the homeless. Seattle and King County declared a state of emergency over 7 years ago to help deal with the growing homeless population. But there is a larger problem that continues to create bottlenecks in the system; “long-term stayers”. These “long-term stayers” are people that spend months or even years in emergency shelter beds that are intended to be a temporary refuge. “A single shelter bed should be available to about six people a year” instead these beds are only being used for several or even a single person (Coleman). It is agreed among the human service officials that in order to alleviate this crisis these “long-term stayers” need to be moved into permanent housing in order to keep shelter beds open for those who need them. But this leads to yet another problem. “At a time when affordable housing resources are limited, it calls for finding homes for people with a wide range of problems — including substance abuse, mental illness, lack of ordinary documents like birth certificates and sometimes complacency — in one of the most expensive and competitive housing markets in the country” (Coleman).
King County has worked hard to create supportive programs for these homeless populations. The county has offered healthcare services such as The Health Care for the Homeless Network (HCHN), mobile medical care trucks, and increased support for shelters and food banks (“Health Care Services for People Living Homeless”). However, these services, like most medical services, were not prepared to support the homeless through the COVID-19 pandemic.
What King County has done amid the COVID-19 crisis:
Officials say that they have “taken steps to spread out shelter populations to allow social distancing and provided handwashing stations to people living in unsheltered in encampments” (James). King County has been telling shelters to maintain proper spacing and isolation for sick patients but with limited space and overcrowding this feat seems impossible. By March 29th there had already been three cases of COVID-19 in three different shelters across King County. County officials stated in a press release that “Public Health is following up with all the affected facilities to conduct a clinical assessment of their residents and ensure infection control is being followed” (James). Because of these cases there is mounting fear for a large outcropping of cases among the homeless populations within shelters.
Homeless populations are at an increased risk of infection due to their limited access to hygiene stations such as bathrooms and showers and their close quarters in shelters. Additionally, the homeless populations are made up of a large percentage of people with underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and other the transference of other diseases. Just this past March there was an outbreak of Hepatitis A among the King County homeless with over 29 reported cases in that month alone (Walters). This outbreak is an example of how quickly viruses can spread among a population such as this with limited space and depleting resources.
To help combat this King County has opened several locations for homeless to live in isolation while awaiting test results or to undergo recovery (James). These sites include motel rooms, shelters, and even public centers that had been closed due to the stay-at-home order. However, for those that are living at unsheltered sites, more needs to be done. The county has begun rolling out hygiene stations to allow those that would typically use public facilities (that are now closed) for personal hygiene an opportunity to maintain their personal hygiene. However, there have been difficulties surrounding these stations. “For one, procuring things like hygiene trailers can be difficult,” Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller said in a press conference. “Moreover, maintaining hygiene facilities is tough and comes with high costs. And there’s been some vandalism at portable toilet sites” (Walters). But it seems that these small measures are not enough.
“There are thousands of people who do not have the privilege or luxury of being able to meet their own bodily needs on a regular, dignified basis and that is contributing to their serious health vulnerabilities,” said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the King County Coalition on Homelessness. “From what I can see, our failure to address the greatest needs of those with the least really should indict us all for really putting our entire city at risk” (Walters).
Finding something that I could do to help during these times proved to be difficult. It is hard to reach out and help the homeless population when I myself am not allowed to leave my house and are unable to interact with these people without putting myself and others at risk.
After doing some research and watching some news (lots of news), I realized that I could help create supplies to donate to these at-risk people from the safety of my own home. After doing some googling, I landed on the CDC’s website where they have written out instructions on how to make your own masks at home. Fortunately, I had access to sewing supplies and a will to create!
- Two 10”x6” rectangles of cotton fabric
- Two 6” pieces of elastic (or rubber bands, string, cloth strips, or hair ties)
- Needle and thread (or bobby pin)
- Sewing machine
1. Cut out two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of cotton fabric. Use tightly woven cotton, such as quilting fabric or cotton sheets. T-shirt fabric will work in a pinch. Stack the two rectangles; you will sew the mask as if it was a single piece of fabric.
2. Fold over the long sides ¼ inch and hem. Then fold the double layer of fabric over ½ inch along the short sides and stitch down.
3. Run a 6-inch length of 1/8-inch wide elastic through the wider hem on each side of the mask. These will be the ear loops. Use a large needle or a bobby pin to thread it through. Tie the ends tight.
Don’t have elastic? Use hair ties or elastic head bands. If you only have string, you can make the ties longer and tie the mask behind your head.
4. Gently pull on the elastic so that the knots are tucked inside the hem. Gather the sides of the mask on the elastic and adjust so the mask fits your face. Then securely stitch the elastic in place to keep it from slipping.
(“Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19”)
COVID-19 has brought about a scary time that we are all facing. People cope in different ways and it is okay to feel all the feelings that you are. It’s okay to be angry and upset that your lives have be dramatically altered for an indeterminate amount of time. But I cannot help but think of the people that are being forgotten during this crisis. The people that rely on our support and service the most in order to survive. Even though making masks is not a solution to the health care inequality that homeless people and other groups experience, it is a way to work to help and contribute to the wellbeing of these people during a challenging time. If you have the means and time to do the same, I urge you to contribute to your local communities during this crisis. Take the time to give back to the communities that have given so much to you.
Thank you all so much for reading about my beautiful question. I hope to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
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Coleman, Vernal. “The Bottleneck in Seattle’s Homeless Shelters That Leaves
Thousands on the Streets.” The Seattle Times, 26 Oct. 2017,
Accessed 10 Apr. 2020.
“Health Care Services for People Living Homeless.” King County,
Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.
James, Will. “First COVID-19 Cases Confirmed in King County’s Homeless
Population.” KNKX, 29 Mar. 2020, www.knkx.org/post/first-covid-19-
cases-confirmed-king-countys-homeless-population. Accessed 19 Apr.
“Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.” Center
of Disease Control, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,
face-coverings.html. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.
Walters, Kate. “Limited Bathroom Access, Business Closures Leave Seattle’s
Homeless Population Vulnerable amid Covid-19 Pandemic.” KUOW,
KUOW News and Information, 8 Apr. 2020, www.kuow.org/stories
vulnerable. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.
“Seattle Homeless Population Is Third Largest in U.S., after LA and NYC.”
KUOW, KUOW News and Information, 18 Dec. 2018, www.kuow.org/
homeless-trends. Accessed 10 Apr. 2020.