Written by Ainsley Jackman
Since news about the coronavirus first came earlier this year, public health officials have been especially concerned for the homeless population in large cities like San Diego. They could be among the most vulnerable, considering their typically close living quarters, lack of sanitary measures, and high rate of chronic health issues.
In response to these warnings, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer took swift preventative action by setting up the San Diego Convention Center as a safe refuge for the homeless amid the pandemic. Hundreds of homeless San Diegans were transferred to the center, which offers well-regulated social distancing procedures, medical monitoring, and housing navigators to help residents find more permanent homes.
His actions have paid off well based on the current numbers. An estimated 3,000 people have circulated through the center, and only 18 of more than 6,000 administered COVID-19 tests have been positive. There have yet to be any confirmed deaths from coronavirus in the San Diego homeless population.
Mayor Faulconer’s adept handing of the situation reflects the success of his broader strategy regarding homelessness in San Diego. While homelessness in the rest of the state continues to rise at alarming rates, San Diego is the only major city in California to see a decrease in homelessness in 2019—a massive drop of 12% according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.
Despite positive numbers in San Diego with regard to the handling of the virus, the homeless population of other cities has not handled the shutdowns so well. In San Francisco, 50 homeless people died over an eight week period, which is double the usual number. Public libraries and other public buildings are closed, so many lack the food, water, and other basic amenities that they would usually have access to. Fentanyl overdoses are also on the rise, with stay-at-home orders making it difficult to attain medical help quickly and easily.
All of this suggests that, once again, the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has been far more harmful than the pandemic itself. A reality that—unlike the virus—we can do something about through policy.