Estimating the Need Around Creating Social Distancing in NJ’s Shelters

An Investment of almost $127 Would Help Meet the Emergency Needs of NJ’s Vulnerable Homeless Population

There is a new report on the “Estimated Emergency and Observational/Quarantine Bed Need for the U.S. Homeless Population Related to COVID-19 Exposure by County; Projected Hospitalizations, Intensive Care Units, and Mortality.”  The report, shared by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, estimates the emergency and observational and quarantine beds needed for the homeless population.

These beds are needed for the population experiencing homelessness as a response to potential exposure to COVID-19. We have a responsibility to protect human life and the health of individuals experiencing homelessness. The report breaks down the demand for beds by each county in the United States along with the new investment of funding to pay for these beds.

The reports’ authors’, Dennis Culhane, Dan Treglia, Ken Steif, Randall Kuhn, & Thomas Byrne, analysis suggests that the total estimated cost to meet the nation’s emergency and observational/quarantine shelter bed need is approximately $11.5 billion for the current year. The analysis projects that individuals experiencing homelessness who become infected by COVID-19 would be twice as likely to be hospitalized. These individuals would also be two to four times as likely to require critical care and two to three times as likely to die than the general population.

In New Jersey, the report estimates that 2,213 beds will be needed to safely decrease density in emergency shelters. According to the report, social distancing in an emergency shelter or transitional living program occurs when each person living in the shelter has 100 square feet to themselves.

And a total of 4,285 new beds will need to be created across the state. These beds will house those are living unsheltered which puts them at particular risk for contracting the coronavirus. How can someone be expected to wash their hands regularly when they do not have access to a clean bathroom?

The current coronavirus epidemic reminds us all that housing should be a human right. If every individual and family experiencing homelessness had a home of their own in their community of choice, the need for shelter beds would be much less. While we must meet the new and immediate need brought on by this pandemic, we also must continue to work on longer term strategies to create enough emergency housing to meet the needs of New Jersey’s homeless population.

The cost of increasing the emergency shelter capacity with these new beds is $107,107,700. The cost of building quarantine beds in New Jersey for individuals experiencing homelessness will be $19,141,400. The total estimated cost to meet New Jersey’s emergency and observational/quarantine shelter bed need is approximately $126,588,900 for this year.

These expenses will cover just the short-term needs. We must also prepare for what will most likely be an increased demand for housing assistance and services as Americans lose their jobs or face a reduction in work hours due to the coronavirus. While there may be temporary assistance to prevent evictions, in the longer term, people who lose their jobs and hours will not be able to afford to maintain their homes.

If action is not taken to create less density and more personal space for individuals experiencing homelessness in emergency shelters and the money allocated to take this action, there could be far greater expenses for hospitals and in human lives. The population experiencing homelessness is aging and many individuals experiencing homelessness have compromised immune systems. Due to their lack of access to regular healthcare, they are often immunocompromised raising their risk of contracting the coronavirus.

This critical need for additional funding should be taken into consideration as the U.S. Senate considers additional funding allocations aimed at protecting homeless populations from COVID-19.