Homeless New Yorkers Living in Shelters Have Higher COVID-19 Mortality Rates, New Report Finds

Coalition for the Homeless found mortality rate for sheltered individuals was 61% higher than the citywide rate

Report outlines the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on homeless New Yorkers, provides a look at government responses in the early months of the crisis, and recommends urgent actions to support homeless New Yorkers

NEW YORK — June 9, 2020 — Coalition for the Homeless released COVID-19 and Homelessness in New York City: Pandemic Pandemonium for New Yorkers Without Homes, a report that provides a detailed look at the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for homeless New Yorkers, specifically the disproportionately high mortality rates for those sleeping in shelters. The report comes three months after Governor Cuomo declared New York’s state of emergency, and chronicles inadequate City and State responses to the crisis. It outlines recommendations for urgent actions needed to protect sheltered and unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.

The report provides insight into how a lack of access to safe private spaces for homeless people has exacerbated transmission, hospitalization, and deaths among these vulnerable individuals and families, with those living in congregate shelters finding themselves at a particularly high risk. It analyzes COVID-19 mortality rates among homeless New Yorkers sleeping in shelters, and further notes that homelessness is unequivocally an issue of racial justice by highlighting deep-rooted disparities between the rates of homelessness among Black, Latinx, and White New Yorkers.

Unsheltered and sheltered homeless individuals, who are mostly people of color, may suffer higher mortality rates due to serious underlying health conditions and the fact that they are less likely to have been tested for COVID-19. The research reveals that the number of COVID-19-related deaths among homeless New Yorkers in shelters in April 2020 was 157 percent higher than the number of deaths from all causes among this population during an average month in 2019.

“Countless missteps have placed an already at-risk community, who lack the security, safety, and privacy of a home, in even greater danger – physically, mentally, and economically. Government responses to the pandemic at every level have been far too slow and have led to unnecessary chaos for those sleeping in shelters, on the streets, and on the subway. If New York wants to emerge from COVID-19 and move toward recovery, the City and State must take immediate measures to address the disparate toll the coronavirus has taken on New Yorkers who are homeless. Our elected officials must take comprehensive action, grounded in the principles of public health and human rights,” said Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy at Coalition for the Homeless.

The report closes with recommendations for urgent City and State actions needed to help sheltered and unsheltered homeless New Yorkers obtain safe shelter, to address the economic impact of the crisis on the ability of low-income individuals and families to obtain and retain housing, and to plan for the likelihood of future pandemics as they may affect how New York provides safe shelter to our homeless neighbors.

Key Findings:

  • As of June 1st, the overall New York City mortality rate due to COVID-19 was 200 deaths per 100,000 people. For homeless New Yorkers sleeping in shelters, it was 321 deaths per 100,000 people on an age-adjusted basis – or 61 percent higher than the New York City rate.
  • As of May 31st, there were 926 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in approximately 179 shelter locations.
  • After the City and State initiated a nightly shutdown of NYC subways, with a goal of removing homeless people taking refuge below ground, as of May 28th, only 281 individuals had moved into and stayed in a shelter placement.
  • In a national survey by Hart Research Associates, 90 percent of adults surveyed support expanding funding for homeless assistance programs that minimize the number of people living in large shelters by providing them with alternative individual spaces for isolation and self-quarantine.

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