How can you stay at home if you don’t have one? Why COVID-19 poses a critical risk for homeless, street-connected and displaced youth
As each day unfolds, we hear more stories of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of millions. But there remains a critically affected population whose stories are less likely to be heard, and whose needs are still going unseen in the midst of aid responses: homeless, street-connected, and displaced youth.
Today in the US more than 4.2 million experience some form of homelessness in the course of a year. And with the unprecedented economic impacts of Coronavirus, many more families and children may find themselves without stable housing.
Just in Central and Latin America, some 60 million children and youth are without a home or street-connected – meaning they live, work and sleep in public places. Globally, nearly 50 million children are refugees, many of whom have been forced to flee conflict, persecution or violence.
In the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, these children and youth who are already so vulnerable are now at critical risk.
The Most Vulnerable Youth
The millions of youth who are facing homelessness and COVID-19 across the country and around the world are generally more susceptible to illness because daily survival is prioritized over everything else. But more than this, they may not be able to self-isolate, have access to mainstream health care, or even be informed about COVID-19 and how they can prepare themselves to prevent contracting it. If they do get sick, poor nutrition and weakened immune systems can mean these young people are even at a higher risk of mortality.
In addition to their physical health, mental health is also a concern – many children and youth who don’t have a safe place to go have already experienced significant trauma. Self-isolation or quarantining can make this situation even more challenging. And for street-connected youth or children on the move who lack access to water and sanitation or are unable to self-isolate, the looming risks of contracting the virus adds another layer of stress to an already unimaginably difficult day-to-day experience.
Hope in the Face of the Crisis
While the needs and heightened risks amongst these extremely vulnerable children are complex, Red Nose Day’s partners who are working on the frontlines – like Consortium for Street Children, Covenant House and the International Rescue Committee – remain dedicated to ensuring their safety and wellbeing, and are finding innovative ways to support them in the face of this evolving crisis. Across the US and in Guatemala and Mexico City, Covenant House locations have turned classrooms, offices and drop-in centers into isolation units in case young people living there or coming in from the streets show COVID-19 symptoms; over half of their centers are now caring for symptomatic youth.
The closing of high schools, businesses and other locations where young people would normally rely on food has put an additional strain on Covenant House’s programs, with 40% more meals being served across their network in recent weeks. For these types of organizations, increasing the capacity by this scale over a short period of time will severely impact their budgets, meaning not enough money will be available for other critical services.
The International Rescue Committee is establishing washing stations around refugee camps where Red Nose Day funds are at work, and doing extensive promotion of social distancing practices. Their work also targets mental health, and aims to protect young children from the effects of stress and trauma using play-based activities. With the COVID outbreak, the team is looking at how to leverage digital platforms to deliver resources for this critical programming to care workers.
Just one more night without safe shelter can be the difference between life and death for millions of already incredibly vulnerable children and youth who are living right here in our communities and in so many places around the world. The coronavirus does not discriminate by income, race or gender or housing status, but homeless, street-connected, and displaced children will be some of the most affected of all.
Your support will help to fund numerous programs to help the most vulnerable children and youth when their need is greatest.
Children need your help now.
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis threatens children living in poverty in an unprecedented way. Your gift to Red Nose Day supports our efforts to keep children safe, healthy, and educated in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.