Contagious Conversations: Ensuring Public Health Protections for People Experiencing Homelessness


Homelessness is an issue that has significant impact on both individuals as well as communities across the nation. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, approximately 580,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States on a single night in 2020, an increase of more than 12,000 people, or 2.2 percent, from 2019. In the latest episode of our Contagious Conversations podcast, we explore the link between people experiencing homelessness and public health.

People are considered to be experiencing homelessness if they stay in a shelter, live in transitional housing or sleep in a place not meant for human habitation, such as a car or outdoors. But did you know that people experiencing homelessness are at an increased risk for infectious and non-infectious diseases? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), homelessness is known to increase the risk for infectious diseases such as viral hepatitis (especially hepatitis C), tuberculosis, HIV and COVID-19. People experiencing homelessness also commonly face mental illness, alcohol and substance use disorder, diabetes and heart and lung disease.

I spoke about this issue with Emily Mosites, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist and senior advisor on special populations to the Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases at CDC.

Recognizing gaps in public health protections for many people experiencing homelessness, Dr. Mosites launched a CDC-wide working group to address the issue. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, she initiated and led the COVID-19 Response Homelessness Unit, and now leads a team within the deputy director’s office focused on ensuring that broad public health protections extend fully to people experiencing homelessness. 

I encourage everyone to listen to this episode and learn about the challenges with helping people experiencing homelessness, and learn about what CDC is doing to address this issue. 

As Dr. Mosites says in the episode, “Right now, we have so much change happening. And if we just remind ourselves that even with issues that seem intractable like homelessness, there are things that we can do.”

Learn more about people experiencing homelessness on the CDC website.

Photo of Claire Stinson
Claire Stinson is a communications officer for the CDC Foundation.