By Jessica Easthope
The homeless population takes on many risks during the pandemic: eating, sleeping and cooking outside in the bitter cold – just to name a few.
“Homelessness is on the brink of becoming a pandemic itself,” said Rev. Terry Troia the president of Project Hospitality.
According to the latest data from the Department of Homeless Services, more than 53,000 people sleep in New York City’s shelters every day. Nearly 90 percent of them are black and Hispanic, which are the communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Rev. Terry Troia advocates for them and the street homeless that live in encampments. During the pandemic, Project Hospitality was the only church-based shelter network in the city to stay open.
“This past year we have seen an unprecedented number of homeless people hunker down in encampments,” Rev. Terry said. “People who were forced out very early because of losing their job during COVID or being forced out of their room because they didn’t have the money to pay.”
Homeless people across New York City have been eligible for COVID-19 vaccines for several weeks. So far, the city has administered more than 7,500 vaccines to Social and Homeless Services clients. The city has been using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“It’s a risk factor,” Rev. Terry said, explaining the reason for the vaccine choice. “People don’t exactly have a post office box or an address for where they live in the streets, but the most important thing is to get people vaccinated so they don’t get so sick. That one shot is the solution for people who might not make it back a second time.”
Rev. Terry says the recent explosion of homelessness in New York City can be turned around if everyone does their part, especially during the season of Lent.
“Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three pillars of our spiritual life in this Lenten journey,” she said. “Almsgiving is giving money, or giving your talent or your service to the poor, that’s all it is. If our lives revolved around those three pillars every day, not just 40 days, we would be a more holy and healthy world.”
The city has been vaccinating people in the shelters where they live and working with its Street Medicine program to vaccinate people living outdoors. Project Hospitality will make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine available to its residents in shelters starting next week.