In pandemic America’s tent cities, a grim future grows darker

Reuters:

New York City’s homeless die of COVID at a rate 78% higher than the general population, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

Nadeen Bender stood outside her home, a tattered two-man tent, surrounded by the re-purposed Amazon Prime boxes she uses to store her life’s belongings. One by one, she checked the cartons to make sure nothing had been stolen in the night.

When asked about her Christmas plans, the rail-thin 43-year-old said through a face mask, “to try to avoid it.” Then she burst into tears.

The tent city that has served as Bender’s neighborhood for the past seven months is in the middle of downtown Phoenix, just down the road from luxury high-rise apartments and expensive restaurants.

To deal with an exploding homeless population and encourage social distancing during the pandemic, Marcipoa County officials turned this pair of asphalt-topped parking lots into the area’s newest homeless shelter. The county has more than 7,500 people on the streets, and nearly 5,000 dead from COVID-19.

Inside the crowded encampment, ringed by security fencing and barbed wire, each family has been allotted a 12-by-12-foot lot, marked by paint, to separate people as much as possible.

Phoenix is just one example of a slow-motion disaster unfolding in many large U.S. cities as homeless numbers, already growing in recent years, spike during the global pandemic.

The virus presents a compounding threat. Not only are these populations some of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, but by destroying millions of jobs, the pandemic threatens a wave of evictions that experts warn could lead to a catastrophic housing displacement and even more people living on the streets.

With cities facing a steep hit to their tax bases due to lockdowns aimed at curbing the virus’s spread, homeless advocates say the federal government must step in, and estimate another $11.5 billion is needed immediately.

New funding for the homeless is not included in a $900-billion pandemic relief package passed by Congress on Monday. The fate of the bill was thrown up in the air the next day after outgoing President Donald Trump threatened not to sign it.

Meanwhile, the $4 billion provided earlier this year through the March CARES Act bailout and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is running out, advocates say.

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New York City’s homeless die of COVID at a rate 78% higher than the general population, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

In Los Angeles, several members of the city council want the city to use the convention center as a homeless shelter. San Diego already did that – and now its convention center is suffering a COVID-19 outbreak, with 190 residents and staff testing positive.

Read more at Reuters

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