SDoH Under the Microscope: Coronavirus + Homelessness



COVID-19, colloquially known as coronavirus, has been deemed a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization. As we tune into our news feeds and social media outlets to hear the latest on the coronavirus, we are reminded of how vital our health and the health of our communities is to our livelihood, social structures, and economy. However, there is a neglected group of individuals that cannot keep the same pulse on the situation, nor can they logistically do their part in helping alleviate the contraction or spread of the virus.


According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, more than half of a million people experience homelessness on any given night in the United States. It’s well known that these individuals have higher rates of ED utilization and hospitalization and are less likely to take preventative measures for the benefit of his/her health. Therefore, it makes sense that these individuals, and communities with high rates of homelessness, will face the hardest battle against the coronavirus.


At this point, we can all recite the instructions to lessen our chances of contracting the coronavirus: wash your hands thoroughly and often, stay home when you are sick, and contact a healthcare provider should symptoms arise. Think about how these instructions work when you don’t have access to running water, don’t have a home to go to for isolation, and your means of healthcare is likely the nearest emergency department. Also consider that not only is the homeless population more likely to contract coronavirus, but they have higher mortality should they befall the virus. Given their older age and underlying health conditions, it will likely have more severe impact. It leaves an already struggling population in an even more vulnerable place. Furthermore, it puts another layer of hardship on communities, health systems, and providers on the frontlines of prevention.  


So, what now? Some communities are stepping up, recognizing that this population needs additional support to help prevent the spread of this havoc-reeking disease. From providing (temporary) housing so individuals can recover in isolation, to health department teams that are aiding in hygiene practices with hand-washing stations.


On a macro level, a wide array of analytics is being used to track and project the magnitude of the pandemic and understand its possible origin. However, communities and health systems should be thinking more proactively, using SDoH data and analytics to identify vulnerable areas, determine optimal resource allocation, and properly implement containment strategies. There is an ample opportunity to utilize existing data to protect the communities we love.


It is unfortunate that it takes an emerging infectious disease outbreak to remind us of the needs of the homeless population. Base Camp Health is hopeful that these efforts will not go unnoticed and that support for these individuals will continue to perpetuate long after coronavirus is buried in our social media feeds.