Fewer Homeless Are Choosing Shelters Because of COVID-19

Jeff Lewis/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation

We have previously noted that the continuing economic restrictions due to COVID-19 will lead to increased homelessness, and that homelessness can be just as deadly as the virus.

Lexington is Kentucky’s second largest city, but, with roughly 325,000 residents, it isn’t really isn’t that large. And even though I believe that Governor Andy Beshear’s (D-KY) COVID executive orders are illegal and unconstitutional, most of them aren’t as onerous as the restrictions in Pennsylvania and New York.

But there’s this from the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Number of Lexington homeless living outside explodes. Is COVID-19 to blame?

By Beth Musgrave | September 28, 2020 | 12:19 PM EDT | Updated 2:55 PM EDT

The number of people living outside in Kentucky’s second-largest city has skyrocketed in recent months as many homeless are avoiding crowded shelters during the pandemic, Lexington officials said.

Typically during the warmer summer months, more than 50 people are unsheltered in Lexington. That number has likely grown north of 300, said Polly Ruddick, the director of the city’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention.

“We aren’t seeing an overall influx or increase in homelessness,” Ruddick said at a Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Thursday meeting. “We are seeing a decrease in shelter use.”

The city had just under 700 homeless people in its shelters, living outside and in transitional and other housing in January, during its annual homeless count. That number, however, constantly changes.

The city’s main shelters, including the Hope Center, which houses men, and the Salvation Army, which houses women and children, still have available beds. The Catholic Action Center, which houses men and women, is not taking any new clients until it opens a second shelter space at its Industry Road location, which it hopes to have completed by mid-October.

The story continues to tell us that the existing shelters have restrictions, to keep people who might have the virus from entering and infecting everyone else at the shelters. And, of course, with all of the warnings about the need for face masks and social distancing,¹ people who might otherwise have used the shelters might be staying away for fear that they might get infected themselves.

Kentucky may be thought of as a southern state, but it still gets cold in the winter. The average lows in Lexington are 28º, 25º and 28º F for December, January and February. That’s actually a touch colder than in Philadelphia and New York City, but imagine being homeless in Chicago or Minneapolis.

The economic restrictions have not ‘cured’ COVID-19, and how much they have slowed the spread of the virus is debatable . . . and unknown. But they have dramatically wounded the economy, and that will have fatal effects all its own.
¹ – A photo of people waiting in line at Lighthouse Ministries for meals in July, 2020 only showed the faces of two of the homeless clearly, and neither was wearing a mask.
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