People experiencing homelessness, especially rough sleepers, are at higher risk of contracting, spreading and becoming sick from COVID-19. Compared to the general population they are often immuno-compromised and have co-morbid pre-existing conditions.
For those sleeping rough it is difficult to self-isolate or socially distance without a home, and they have limited access to sanitation such as showers, hand-washing or sanitiser. Those staying with family in overcrowded accommodation cannot physically distance and are often highly transient, moving from lodging to lodging. In Western Australia an estimated 50% of rough sleepers are Aboriginal, who are also believed to be at greater risk from Covid-19.
Many of the homelessness service providers have had to modify their services or withdraw completely in response to distancing requirements and the risk to volunteers, staff and clientele.
The vulnerability and exposure of people experiencing homelessness in WA during a pandemic is not just a tragedy, it also constitutes a public health risk.
As a prime vector for transmission of COVID-19, the homeless community may significantly contribute to the spread; as a highly vulnerable group of people, they could potentially overwhelm the capacity of the health system.
Further action is needed to care for, protect and prevent the risk of transmission in people experiencing homelessness, through the provision of housing and support.