Covid-19: Homelessness and Substance Use


The world is forever changed due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Sadly, it has not only taken many lives already in both the United States and abroad, but it has wreaked havoc in the lives of countless others, including those without shelter.

With many updates that evolve daily due to this pandemic, a group that may easily get overlooked by some is the homeless population. Specifically, the homeless population in New York and New Jersey are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. There have been more deaths in New York and New Jersey from this virus than the combined total of the rest of the United States. As of this writing, that total is 7,772 just for those two states alone. New York City is considered the epicenter of the virus in the US.covid-19 homelessness and substance use

It’s estimated that over 50% of individuals living in supportive housing programs had a mental health disorder, a substance use disorder (SUD), or both, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Combining an easily transmittable virus with these other factors can be dangerous for everyone, homeless or not.

Homelessness and Flattening the Curve

Those that have not been able to seek refuge in a homeless shelter are left to fend for themselves on the streets, obviously without access to updated information regarding the virus. The fact that many are not getting information, coupled with substance abuse and/or mental health disorders, makes this group more likely not to practice social distancing and proper hygiene. And if they are actively using drugs, are not in the right frame of mind to make good choices about their health and well-being. Furthermore, they don’t have access to proper medical care or a home to follow any of the current “stay-at-home” guidelines to decrease the spread of the COVID-19, and to therefore flatten the curve.

Weakened Immune System and Substance Use

Sunrise House Treatment Center

Those that are specifically struggling with a addiction are more susceptible to COVID-19 due to a compromised immune system. According to American Addiction Centers’ Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, MD, ABHM, FASAM, FAMA, substance use suppresses the function of immune response cells, which increases the individual’s susceptibility to infectious diseases and infections. The fact that the novel coronavirus is highly contagious isn’t helpful. It can be transmitted through a cough, a sneeze, and potentially the droplets of saliva (containing the virus) that a person releases from their mouth during a normal conversation. Many homeless individuals cluster in groups, which, coupled with a weak immune system, makes it effortless to pass along the virus.

Sunrise House Treatment Facility located in New Jersey has kept its doors open even through this pandemic. Our facility offers professional and safe medical detox, treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, live-in rehabilitation, and outpatient services, all within a supportive environment. If you’re homeless, find yourself struggling with substance use, and you’re in the Tri-State area, consider Sunrise House to start your journey to recovery.



About The Contributor

Nitara Osbourne, M.Ed.
Nitara Osbourne, M.Ed.

Content Specialist, American Addiction Centers

Nitara Osbourne, M.Ed., is a Content Specialist at American Addiction Centers (AAC). As an Award-Winning Writer of the movie Running on Empty Dreams and with 20+ years of professional writing experience, she went on to be the Founder... Read More


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