Berkeley Public Health report reveals impact of COVID-19 on unhoused youth

A new report from UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Youth and Allies Against Homelessness (YAAH) tracks how the COVID-19 pandemic affected unhoused youth in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The pandemic has had and continues to have a profound impact on youth experiencing homelessness  in the Bay Area. YAAH employed a web-based survey of such youth in San Francisco and Alameda counties to document the impact of the pandemic on their trajectory to adulthood during the summer of 2021. The study also solicited youth input through open-ended questions about their lived experiences. The results included responses from 182 individuals.

The study is the most wide-ranging investigation to date of the impact of the pandemic on youth experiencing homelessness.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we witnessed the community of youth we work with being literally left out in the cold in the larger public health scramble,” says lead author Coco Auerswald, MD. “We are proud that our report not only documents the harms incurred by youth and gives youth a voice, but also provides the necessary evidence to implement policies to be sure that no future pandemic, wildfire, or other disaster disproportionately harms youth experiencing homelessness again.”

The report’s key findings include:

  • One third of the youth surveyed reported becoming unhoused since the start of the pandemic.
  • 50% were eating fewer meals per day; over half were going to sleep hungry more often.
  • Nearly a third had more difficulty accessing water and more than 25% had more difficulty accessing a toilet.
  • 38% had more difficulty accessing Wi-Fi and 23% had more difficulty accessing a cell phone, key resources to services, health care, education, employment, and safety
  • More than half were in school before the pandemic; one in five subsequently dropped out.
  • When the survey was conducted in 2021, 73% of Bay Area residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine. In stark contrast, only 21% of participants had received a dose.

YAAH consists of youth community interns with lived experience of homelessness, and undergraduate and graduate students who have experienced homelessness and/or who have demonstrated a commitment to ending it, along with faculty lead Dr. Coco Auerswald. YAAH is part of i4Y (Innovations for Youth), a community and youth-collaborative research center.


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