COVID-19 Homelessness Medicine Seattle


When I was younger, my intention was to become an infectious disease doctor. Forces, seen and unseen, pulled me into psychiatry.

My undergraduate studies were in microbiology, virology, and immunology. Had someone told me twenty years ago that I would someday use that knowledge on a daily basis, I would have shrugged and said, “Well, that makes sense. That’s the plan, right?”

Had someone told me ten years ago that I would use knowledge from my undergraduate studies during a pandemic, I would have snorted: “But now I work as a psychiatrist. And a pandemic? What are you talking about?”

Had someone told me two years ago that I, as a psychiatrist, would be leading a public health response for a homelessness services agency during a global pandemic, I would have furrowed my brow: “What are you talking about?”

And here we are.

We’ve never had so many people—staff and patients—test positive for Covid at one time during the pandemic as we have in the past three days. Thankfully, most have had only mild symptoms and none, thus far, have needed hospital-level care.

The work we’re doing for Covid isn’t as intense or heartbreaking as the work my colleagues are doing in emergency departments and hospitals. Never before had I thought that a homelessness services agency could play a vital role in prevention and early intervention.

And here we are.

Throughout the pandemic, our team has framed our efforts as one way to keep people out of emergency departments and hospitals. These could be our humble contribution to our colleagues working in inpatient settings. We have been largely successful, though I worry that our luck is running out.

We continue to witness the indirect effects of the pandemic. Some have been lethal: Suicides and overdoses, whether intentional or not. Some are worrisome: More irritability and increasing intolerance for the challenges and annoyances of life, regardless of one’s station. I wince when I consider what might come next as we witness this surge of cases.

God have mercy on us all.