So much of achieving health equity is about addressing the underlying policies that drive inequities. Yesterday, August 4th, 2021, Dr. Blackstock, Health Justice’s Founder and Executive Director, participated in a housing justice media event to call for action to address unsafe living conditions for people who are homeless. As NYC experiences an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the city is moving people who are unhoused from the safety of hotel rooms to congregate shelters. With low vaccination rates among people who are unhoused, the more transmissible Delta variant, and very high transmission levels, this is a combustible and dangerous mix that has harmful implications for the health and wellbeing of people who are homeless.
Below are Dr. Blackstock’s remarks from the housing justice media event:
Housing Justice is Health Justice!
Good afternoon, thank you to the organizers for inviting me to share a few words!
I’m Dr. Oni Blackstock—Founder of Health Justice, a health equity consulting firm; a member of New York Doctors, a coalition of health workers promoting health justice in NYC.
I’m also a primary care and HIV doctor. I did my medical training in the Bronx and spent much of my career practicing here.
In my role as a physician, I’ve come to understand very well the inextricable link between housing and health.
I’ve seen personally among my own patients how homelessness or having only temporary or unstable housing negatively impacts one’s ability to stay safe, to go to clinic visits and to take prescribed medications. And we know that the negative impacts of homelessness on health are only amplified during a pandemic.
And, yes, though the powers that be would have us believe otherwise, we are still in the midst of a pandemic.
COVID-19 is not behind us.
The city is still experiencing very high COVID-19 transmission.
We are now dealing with the more contagious Delta variant and, in the last two weeks alone, there has been a 138% increase in new COVID-19 cases.
Hospitalizations are starting increase again.
Now is not the time, nor is any time the time for that matter, but especially now, to be placing people who are homeless into congregate shelters.
We know that people experiencing street homelessness including those living in congregate shelters are older and have more chronic conditions and disabilities. In other words, they are at greater risk for severe outcomes due to COVID-19 such as hospitalization and death.
Transferring people from the safety of hotel rooms to congregate shelters in the middle of a pandemic is in effect a death sentence. It’s putting those who are among most vulnerable at THE greatest risk for getting COVID-19.
We know that housing is a prescription for good health and so to prevent a worsening crisis, we urge the Mayor to halt these unsafe transfers to congregate shelters immediately and to get individuals who are homeless into safe and stable housing.
We urge FEMA to continue to fund these hotel shelters during what continues to be the biggest public health emergency of the past century.
And, lastly, we call upon the Governor to sign the state bill that would increase housing vouchers to a fair market rate and this enable people to find permanent housing.