PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – In March, the founder of The Homeless Voice, a South Florida newspaper about homelessness, took his vendors off the streets because of COVID-19. Sean Cononie said they just got back to selling and collecting in September.
Now, he is curbing them again because of the safety risk they may pose.
“When our vendors approach a car, the height of the vendor is higher than the person in the car and because of gravity, I feel if one of our vendors were sick, it could be passed onto the driver of the car.”
Cononie’s business model was to have those that were homeless sell newspapers, giving them jobs in exchange for shelter. Money they would collect would be returned to his COSAC Foundation to help the homeless.
“We only let them come back working half days, but now we must do our part and help stop the spread of COVID,” he said.
He has since put his newspaper online with photos of some of the vendors who are now, as he says, “left without an income," in hopes the donations can continue.
Cononie, an advocate for the homeless, was at the center of a controversy with the city of Hollywood when he bought a former hotel on Federal Highway in March 2002 and ran the COSAC Quarters Hotel for the Poor in an area that the city said wasn’t zoned for such use. A judged ruled three years later that it could remain open. In 2015, Cononie sold his shelter to the city. Now, the COSAC Homeless Assistance Center runs out of Davie.
He said he is sending outreach teams to visit those that live on the street, where they receive hand cleaner, masks, and their vitals signs are taken. “It’s time to hunker down and wear a mask and wash hands.” His message to those he advocates for: “We can stay open but we must do our part when out in the community and do whatever we can do. We got to be more careful now.”
According to FactCheck.org, a report published by the nonprofit National Alliance to End Homelessness projects that the homeless population in the U.S. “will be twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die as the general population” as a result of the pandemic.
Actual numbers of how many homeless people have been infected or have died from COVID-19 are not known yet. “There’s an ad hoc nature to not just the response to this crisis just generally speaking, but with the data tracking,” Daniel Treglia, a co-author of the NAEH report, said.