Deaths Among America’s Homeless Are Soaring in the Pandemic

(TIMES) Paul Moakley, April 5, 2021

When West Virginia declared a state of emergency to arrest the coronavirus, the social network that aids the homeless froze along with everything else. Charities that offered daily meals and warming stations shut down. Volunteers, many elderly, were too afraid to work in the soup kitchens they usually ran. There was suddenly no place to eat or go to the bathroom. “Our homeless community found themselves being told to stay entirely outdoors,” says Kate Marshall, a charity worker in Wheeling, a city in the state’s northern panhandle. “There was not one indoor place to go from March until fall of 2020.”

Ordered to shelter in place, people without shelter died at an alarming rate. In a bad year here, according to social workers from three charity organizations, two to four of the unhoused die. Over the past year, they have tallied 22 deaths, a sevenfold increase.

Only two of the deaths are suspected to be from COVID-19. But all occurred during the collapse of the safety net that in normal times addresses the complex mix of ­afflictions—trauma, medical conditions, addiction—that accompany homelessness, and worsened during the profound isolation of the pandemic. “There were days when there were no services at all,” says John Moses, who runs the Winter Freeze Shelter, a refuge of last resort for the three coldest months.