Characteristics of COVID-19 in Homeless Shelters

A University of Washington study of 1,434 residents and staff at 14 adult and family homeless shelters in King County showed the need for routine viral testing outside of clinical settings for those experiencing homelessness. It also showed that people in shelters may be at greater risk for outbreaks due to overcrowding and shared bathrooms.

The study, conducted from January through April 2020, began as an “offshoot” of the November 2019 Seattle Flu Study conducted at homeless shelters. That study researched the trial of onsite testing and treatment to manage flu outbreaks in a setting where they could easily spread.

Read the summary from UW Medicine here, and the study itself in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Impact of Hotels as Non-Congregate Emergency Shelters

Impact of Hotels as Non-Congregate Emergency Shelters

In April 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Public Health Officer Jeffrey Duchin responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with an unprecedented act. They moved more than 700 people out of crowded congregate emergency shelters and into hotel rooms. By November 2020, over 400 more people had also been temporarily sheltered in hotels.

Their decision was part of a regional effort to decrease the numbers of people in the shelter system. The goal was to limit the transmission of the virus and protect vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness. The county, the City of Seattle and provider agencies also lessened crowding by opening new congregate shelters that could provide enough space for social distancing. At all sites, providers received support to meet Public Health guidance for social distancing and to prevent and control infection.

A team of researchers from the University of Washington and the King County Department of Community and Human Services was engaged to study the impacts of this change in programming. The data showed that the strategy did limit the spread of COVID-19 among persons moved to hotel locations compared to those who stayed in congregate settings. The study also found additional positive results for individuals in hotel locations. They experienced:

  • feeling more stability thanks to having a consistent, private room
  • improved health and well-being shown through better sleep, hygiene, mental health and overall, by having a clean, private room with a bathroom
  • reduced interpersonal conflict thanks to having more privacy and lessened anxiety. This resulted in fewer emergency 911 calls from hotel shelters.
  • more time to think about and take steps towards future goals such as finding permanent housing, a job or more education
  • more leaving temporary shelter to live in permanent housing, and greater participation in homeless housing services.

Combined treatment for alcohol use disorder shows promise

In a new study, people experiencing homelessness and alcohol use disorder saw improved health while receiving both behavioral and medication treatment. During the three-month treatment, participants reported using less alcohol, suffering less harm from alcohol use and enjoying better physical health quality of life, according to the paper published March 10 in “Lancet.” Results plateaued when treatment ended.

The study’s lead author, Susan Collins, co-directs the Harm Reduction Research and Treatment (HaRRT) Center at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Onsite physical healthcare services increase access to care for people living with mental illness

University of Washington and King County researchers collaborated with DESC to examine the effects of bringing physical healthcare services to behavioral health clinics at DESC and Harborview Medical Center. Results included significant increases in access to physical health services for homeless people with serious mental illness.

Integrating Primary Care Into Community Mental Health Centers: Impact on Utilization and Costs of Health Care – Psychiatric Services (ahead of print, published online July 01, 2016)