Homelessness in Philadelphia
There are approximately 5,700 individuals facing homelessness in the city of Philadelphia, 950 of which are considered unsheltered. Homelessness is often caused by factors such as poverty, addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, and inequality. Over the past decade, there has been a spike in opioid addiction in the city of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this has led to an increased number of people living on the streets. While Philadelphia has the lowest number of street-homeless per capita of any large city in the United States, the issue is still prevalent and has taken its toll on individuals and the city as a whole.
Homelessness often goes together with food insecurity, an issue tackled in last month’s blog post. The stress of living on the streets can also lead to mental health issues and crises. Homeless individuals tend to lack support from family or friends to turn to for help, no phone or home address to use when applying for jobs, and are unfortunately looked down upon by much of society. This forces people into an uncomfortable position in which it is almost impossible to escape without outside help/intervention. Now, over the past year, another issue has arisen for homeless people around the world: COVID-19.
Homelessness and COVID-19
According to a study published in The Gerontologist, homeless individuals are often in the physical condition of people 15-20 years older than them. It is estimated that around 202,623 people living without homes in the U.S. are over the age of 50, most likely making their physical condition that of a 65-70-year-old (State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition). The CDC identifies adults over the age of 65 as being at ‘higher risk’ of contracting the COVID-19 virus or becoming more seriously ill from it.
The CDC also identifies those with pre-existing health conditions as ‘higher risk’. The vast majority of people facing homelessness do not receive frequent or consistent healthcare if any at all. The streets are dirty and shelters often crowded, providing the perfect opportunity for germs to spread. Meals are inconsistent and generally unhealthy, which does not help homeless individuals nourish themselves. Chronic health conditions and small illnesses can worsen because individuals do not have access to the necessary medication. Plus, the stress of trying to survive on the streets can also exacerbate any existing illnesses or weaken our immune system.
Without a home or safe space to rest in, there is no real opportunity for homeless people to destress or heal and recover from a sickness/injury. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, stable housing is considered a “social determinant of health,” and without it, individuals will likely suffer from prolonged sickness/injuries that could have been avoided or less severe if they had somewhere to call home.
This means that a sizable portion of America’s homeless population is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and facing serious illness/complications.
How You Can Help (Philly and Beyond)
There are a plethora of ways to get involved and help the homeless community on a local or national scale, whether it be through donations or volunteering. It is always important to support our homeless community, but it is especially important now during these times of danger and uncertainty.
Help enact policies that help our homeless
National Coalition for the Homeless- Contributions go towards educating the public and policymakers about homelessness so that tax dollars can be directed towards shelters and homelessness-relief funds.
Clean out your apartment and donate furniture to those in need
Pathways to Housing PA- Pathways to Housing PA works to house people from the streets and provide care/education to help them reintegrate into society. The organization also has its very own furniture bank that uses public donations to help furnish the homes/spaces of those moving out of homelessness. Keep this organization in mind when you are moving out of your apartment this summer and check out their website to find out what kind of furniture is needed.
Join your community and run with the homeless
Back on My Feet- This non-profit uses physical fitness to teach commitment, hard work, accountability, and goal setting to individuals from homeless and addiction treatment centers. Financial literacy classes, job skills training, and financial aid are provided to help get people back on their feet. If you enjoy running sign up to become a Back on My Feet volunteer. Once a week you will join homeless individuals on a 1-5 mile run and help motivate them to be their best selves! (If you are not the biggest fan of running check out Back on My Feet’s volunteer page for more ways to get involved!)
Support Philadelphia local shelters
Bethesda Project- A non-profit organization that maintains fifteen shelters and supported/independent housing locations in the Philadelphia area. Due to CDC regulations and guidelines, volunteer activities are currently suspended. Monetary donations are appreciated to help support general operations within the Bethesda housing facilities.
Help empower your local homeless community
Project HOME- According to their website, “The mission of the Project HOME community is to empower adults, children, and families to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty, to alleviate the underlying causes of poverty, and to enable all of us to attain our fullest potential as individuals and as members of the broader society.” There is a variety of individual, group, and corporate volunteer opportunities available. Direct donations are accepted as well as donations through Project HOME online store purchases.