Southern Florida is no stranger to homelessness. Over 1,000 people live on Miami streets, but actual numbers may be far higher. The plight of the homeless in Southern Florida has only grown worse with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, in addition to struggling with a lack of shelter, insufficient healthcare, social stigma, and addiction and co-occurring health disorders, Florida’s homeless population is now confronting the deadly infectious disease COVID-19 as well.
Why the Homeless are Struggling with the Coronavirus
Long considered a population vulnerable to disease, homeless individuals are in a precarious spot during the coronavirus pandemic. Infectious disease already has a tendency to spread through homeless populations. This is primarily due to a lack of housing. Being exposed to the elements, even in places with a warm climate like Southern Florida, can wreak havoc on one’s immune system. Due to the large populations of homeless people, homeless shelters are often crowded. These close-quarters environments can exacerbate the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Worse still for the homeless in South Florida, many do not have access to healthcare. Since health insurance is frequently tied to one’s job, unemployed homeless individuals are often left uninsured. While larger cities like Miami or Fort Lauderdale may have more free clinics available, the lack of access to healthcare can worsen the risk of complications with the coronavirus.
Addiction also plays a large role in leaving homeless communities exposed to COVID-19. The disease of addiction can be prevalent amongst homeless individuals, and can be devastating for those with co-occurring mental health disorders. Abusing substances such as drugs and alcohol can significantly weaken one’s immune system. Experts warn that drugs that affect lung health can leave individuals at severe risk of COVID-19. Additionally, addiction can lead to reckless behavior, such as sharing facilities, foregoing hygiene, and ignoring social distancing guidelines. When homelessness, addiction, and the coronavirus strike all at once, the result can be devastating.
Combating Homelessness, Addiction, and the Coronavirus in Southern Florida
Whether you’re from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or another area in Southern Florida, there is action being taken to assist homeless people struggling with addiction and the coronavirus. One particular challenge for folks in the Miami area is that many homeless individuals are over the age of 65. This age range and older is at higher risk for suffering complications from COVID-19. In response, homeless shelters across the city are disinfecting surfaces regularly and offering education courses on the coronavirus.
While these are good first steps, reducing the spread of disease amongst homeless populations will require more action. Expanding access to housing and healthcare would be the next logical avenue to embark upon. Additionally, treating addiction will likely have beneficial effects and result in strengthened immune systems in certain homeless individuals. Implementing these policies will fall on local governments throughout South Florida.
As for treating addiction, Southern Florida hosts many world-class addiction treatment facilities. Recovery First, located near Fort Lauderdale, prides itself on its ability to offer medically informed, patient-centric treatment to those struggling with addiction. While the pandemic is worrying, Recovery First remains open and committed to helping people begin their lives in recovery. Don’t wait to find help, a life free from addiction is but a phone call away.