Ahern, Keeley and Dinan assess the pandemic's impact on shelter entries among households with children in New York City, looking at changes in both levels of homelessness and the reasons that families seek shelter. The authors examine shelter entry trends using a pre-post study design with robust regression controls and find significant changes at the statistical and policy levels. The number of unique families applying for shelter during the first six months of the pandemic was half of those applying during the same period the prior year. Families with no shelter history, primary tenants, and eviction-eligible applicants were significantly and substantially less common among pandemic cohort applicants, while the proportion of families found eligible due to domestic violence increased.
Treglia and colleagues conducted a series of surveys with homeless service agencies across the country to illuminate how local homeless service systems adapted their services to ensure the safety of clients, as well as barriers and facilitators to their resilience. Most communities were able to develop safer non-congregate shelter arrangements for persons experiencing homelessness (PEH) and develop COVID-19 screening and testing protocols. However, a lack of interagency coordination and other bureaucratic barriers routinely impeded the effective use of federal funds to offer safer shelter facilities and limited critical COVID-19 data collection and service coordination efforts.
Tran Smith and colleagues offer extraordinary depth and context to the above papers, using qualitative methods to understand the experiences of PEH and the workers serving them. They interviewed PEH and held focus groups with service providers to assess barriers and facilitators to the implementation of COVID-19 safety protocols in shelters from staff and consumer perspectives. They find that contradictions within safety protocols, as well as technological barriers, competing priorities, and serious resource constraints, limited the ability of homeless service providers to maintain safety for themselves and their clients. This often led to fear and uncertainty for clients, foregone services and mitigation strategies, and increased risks of COVID-19 infection.