The World Just Became a Lot Less Accessible for our Homeless Neighbors

homeless man

It’s a Monday morning in mid-October. Your kids are logged on for virtual class. Their teachers’ voices echo out into the kitchen where you sip your coffee. There’s a knock at the door, but you don’t answer. Instead, you unlock your smartphone with your face and check your messages. As you suspected, the knock was a delivery driver. Your Amazon package has arrived.

After virtual school is over, you decide to take the kids out for dinner. You pile up the car and head to the local fast-food chain. Indoor seating is closed. The line for the drive-thru winds around in a circle. You pull in and wait your turn.

Later that same evening, you head to your neighborhood football field where they’re playing Toy Story 4 via projector. Cars line the field for miles. Families like yours are excited to be out in any capacity after so many months stuck indoors. Children run through the grass donning masks with grinning Disney characters. The high school football field and nearby Walmart are open, but many other communal gathering places like libraries are still closed.

You gaze off into the swaying field of turf and flowers and breathe a sigh of relief. Sure. The world is different, but it’s not so bad. For you, anyway. However, for many people experiencing homelessness, the shutdown continues to isolate them. Here’s why…

Many Members of the Homeless Community Do Not Have Cars

This might seem counterintuitive, but the demand for cars has increased amid pandemic conditions. With the roads now open for more than just essential employees, many US residents who previously didn’t own cars are now investing in vehicles yet again. This makes sense for lots of reasons. Many people believe individual cars are safer than ride shares due to the looming threats of infection. Additionally, many restaurants are only open for pick-up or drive-thru options.

Then there’s the increase in deliveries. Ecommerce sales shot up by 40% this year, due mainly to the fact that online shopping was the only viable option for months. Now, with social distancing measures in place at brick and mortar stores across America, online shopping holds the appeal of feeling safer and more convenient.

And with this unprecedented demand for online goods taking place amid mass unemployment, having access to a car gives Americans the option of spending money (via online shopping) and making money (as the need for delivery drivers skyrockets to meet public demand). Millennials with cash to burn are quickly recognizing the advantages to car ownership, even in urban areas where public transit might be open but is still widely perceived as risky.

The problem is that many members of the homeless community do not have cars. Even vehicular homelessness, which happens when people are forced to use their vehicles as living quarters, does not ensure a working automobile, let alone gas money, toll money, etc. As such, this sudden convenience of car ownership further isolates many of our neighbors without walls.

Not having a car during the pandemic means:

  • Relying on risky transit options such as public transportation, which could mean higher exposure to the virus
  • Not being able to take advantage of the open dining options like curbside pickup and using the drive-thru
  • Even fewer employment opportunities
  • Little or no access to entertainment, which is largely revolving around digital and/or automotive access

This leads in to the next point which is…

Many Members of the Homeless Community Do Not Have Seamlessly Streaming Wi-Fi

Whether it is via laptop, smartphone, or tablet, the need for internet connectivity has never been higher than it is right now. Wi-Fi usage is up an alarming 35% compared to pre-pandemic times. As such, Wi-Fi providers are struggling to keep up with their paying customers.

But for people who are already suffering through homelessness, seamless streaming is nearly impossible because they rely on public hotspots, many of which are completely closed down. Not having access to seamlessly streaming Wi-Fi means they are instantly cut off from all of the following:

  • Telehealth therapy
  • News websites and apps
  • Social media services
  • Online social sector services
  • Education
  • Communication with friends and family
  • Virtual Shopping and so much more

Lastly, the number one thing that homeless people need to survive during COVID-19 is the thing that the rest of us all take for granted.

100% of Homeless People Do Not Have a Safe, Reliable Place to Live

In pre-pandemic times, this meant:

  • More health issues
  • Higher likelihood of death at a younger age
  • More exposure to the elements of nature
  • Higher incidents of becoming victims of violence
  • Higher likelihood of being arrested
  • Lack of choice when it comes to all or most aspects of everyday life

Now, in an era of semi-quarantine, at the crossroads of an uncertain future, having no safe, reliable residence means everything listed above and more. It means no access to:

  • Deliveries
  • Care packages
  • Shelter from the cold
  • Bathrooms
  • Showers
  • Public gyms, or pools, or even places of worship

As the world opens slowly, like a flower in the first few rays of spring sun, we should be more aware than ever of how isolated our neighbors without walls are and continue to be.

As technology that was once considered luxury begins to fill in the blanks in this time of crisis, we should remember that there are members of our society who do not have the opportunity to drive through a fast-food parking lot because they have no vehicle, to order their winter coat online because they have no Wi-Fi, to ask a doctor about their symptoms, to talk to a licensed professional about their depression, to engage in a communal setting, to open a book, to update a status … the list goes on and on.

Have you spoken to your representatives about making housing a right rather than a perceived luxury? If not, please do so today.


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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