The Plight of the Homeless in a Pandemic

As the death toll from COVID-19 continues to rise, people across the country have been advised to stay at home. But what if you don’t have a home? How is this pandemic affecting the homeless around the country, and what is the Church doing to respond to their needs?

In Germany, the Archbishop of Cologne is responding to the plight of the homeless by opening up their seminary to the homeless, since seminarians have been sent home due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Here in the U.S., Catholic Charities continues it’s life-saving work of helping the homeless, despite the added challenges the pandemic introduces. Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, stopped by Morning Air® last week to share the particular challenges the homeless are facing during this time, and how the Church is working to help keep this vulnerable population safe.

“We serve an estimated 1,200 homeless clients each night,” he said. “And during this crisis, of course, it’s important to us that we be even more diligent and more proactive in making sure people are kept safe. The day centers are closed now to make sure people don’t go from place to place. Clients are asked a series of health screening questions before entering the shelters, and are screened again anytime they leave the shelter and come back.”

Msgr. Enzler also explained that while they house a large number of people in their homeless shelters each night, they are taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of their guests and staff.

“Our staff is also enforcing social distance protocols as much as possible,” he explained. “For instance, clients are encouraged to sleep head to toe with the bed next to them in the dormitories. … We have cleaning crews anyway, very good cleaning crews, but now they come in overnight as well to ensure that sanitation is happening around the clock. … The city has set up isolation units away from the shelter so any clients showing symptoms or who answer yes to screening questions can self-isolate while awaiting test results.”

Catholic Charities has many departments that work together to provide support to those in need, and Msgr. Enzler pointed out that, in addition to the homeless shelters, there are other ways that Catholic Charities is answering the plight of the homeless and other vulnerable populations during this pandemic.

“One is in our food programs, which we have in different facilities throughout the Archdiocese of Washington,” he explained. “We’re doing our very best there to have food prepared ahead of time, put in box lunches to give to them as they come in. Those numbers, depending on where they are, can grow or decrease based on what people need. But we think that’s going to grow considerably over the next number of weeks.”

With millions of people newly out of work due to the stay-at-home orders instituted by governors around the country, Msgr. Enzler told Morning Air host John Harper that Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington is already looking for ways to accommodate what they expect to be an onslaught of newly homeless and vulnerable people.

“We’re very blessed to have a city that continues to care deeply about the homeless,” Msgr. Enzler acknowledged. “And so they’re ready to step in and help us. We would need new facilities to work from. We have staff to do it, but we would need new facilities because our facilities now wouldn’t be able to handle a complete onslaught of new people. But we’re certainly thinking about those issues and trying to be prepared.”

Listen to the full conversation with Msgr. John Enzler below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Eastern/3:00 – 6:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.